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Retreats for Homeless Help Minister to the Whole Person

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November 20, 2014

Numerous programs address the material and physical needs of California’s homeless population by providing shelter, clothing and food along with medical and mental health care. But, all too often, a deficit exists in addressing their spiritual concerns.  

For almost 17 years now, the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) has offered retreats, days of reflection and one-on-one spiritual counseling for homeless people, many of whom are in recovery from addictions and actively seek a deep relationship with God.

Today, a nationwide network of ISP teams in 26 cities, nurtures their spiritual journey.  In conjunction with social services, the retreat program sustains and motivates participants to build a better life rooted in hope that transcends discouragement.

The Ignatian Spirituality Project integrates the five hundred year tradition of Ignatian spirituality, with contemporary language of recovery from 12-step programs. It is a process of introspection to discover deeper self-knowledge and one’s relationship with God through prayer, reflection and small group sharing, to find one’s story as a place of God’s grace.

Many retreatants experience transformation in moving from self-hate to love to abandon isolation for engagement. This enables reconciliation for healing of past wounds to reconnect in relationships with family and the broader community.

Beyond compassion rooted in faith, ISP’s model was assessed in a two year study with psychologists and statisticians at DePaul and John Carroll Universities. This study show ISP retreats provide the fundamental foundation of hope from honest discussions, in a safe setting, to name fears that drain life of meaning, contribute to lack of confidence and contribute to isolation from society. Removing these impediments, spiritual and personal growth occurs, shown by statistically measured improvement in employment, housing and recovery, along with decreased loneliness.  

For almost ten years, ISP San Francisco has provided three or four retreats annually for men and women in Berkeley, Hayward and San Francisco.

Jim Neafsey, an ISP San Francisco team member and former coordinator, reflects may retreatants experience healing and spiritual transformation through open, honest sharing in an environment of listening across a diverse spectrum of ethnicity and age. As he says, “They cross boundaries and form a sense of community in an environment that respects the dignity of the person.”

This month the Bay Area program was joined by a Southern California team in Orange County. They hosted a retreat for eleven women affiliated with shelters and transitional living centers in Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana.

A second women’s retreat and initial men’s retreat are planned for the first half of 2015.

Michele Volz, Orange County coordinator notes that after a year of planning, she sees the dedication of shelter directors and case workers but hears they have little time to provide for the spiritual needs of people in transition. Interviewing women for the retreat, she observed while they were in recovery from a myriad of addictions or suffering job loss, they shared a very strong faith and needed community to support their journey.

On each retreat four to six facilitators accompany the retreatants with attentive listening, while authentically sharing their own fears, hopes and image of God. The Orange County retreat was also supported by women that drove retreatants to the retreat center, made prayer shawls and provided gift bags, letters of encouragement and flowers.

The Ignatian Spirituality Project embodies the Gospel reading of Matthew 25:31-46 by providing for the homeless’ spiritual hunger and thirsting in a welcoming, caring environment. Also, the program embodies the core of Catholic Social Teaching to respect the dignity of the human person by standing in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable.

While ISP attends to the needs of the homeless, it allows the retreatants to name and share their gifts. Their challenge of radical material and spiritual poverty manifests as deep humility and reliance on God to define a keen insight into what really matters in life. By sharing their story on retreat, they come to realize their gifts can be shared in the broader community to increase faith, hope and love, as they go forth to live in the spirit of Matthew 25.

For more information about the Ignatian Spirituality Project visit their website: http://www.ignatianspiritualityproject.org

Note: ISP held its first retreat in the Diocese of San Diego in July 2015.