'Retreat on the Way' combines Ignatian spiritual exercises, Buddhist meditation, and motorbike backpacking
The participants of 'Retreat on the Way' pose for a photo at Seven Fountains Jesuit Spirituality Center in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. (Photo: Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific)
The Jesuit priests in Thailand have come up with an innovative retreat involving backpacking and motorbike-riding, drawing young people from various faith groups in the Buddhist-majority nation.
The Seven Fountains Jesuit Spirituality Center in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, hosted the “Retreat on the Way” on Aug. 12-13 which drew some 20 participants including Christians, Buddhists and Animists, said a report on the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP) site on Aug. 15.
“Retreat on the Way” combined three different activities or sources of inspiration: Ignatian spiritual exercises, Buddhist meditation, and motorbike backpacking.
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Young students who attended the retreat said they found new meaning in their lives and better ways to connect with their peers.
Vietnamese Jesuit Father Pham Ngo Hoang Dung said that enriching the spirituality of the youth was a difficult task which the retreat achieved.
“In the context of Buddhist countries and modern technologies, it is not easy to keep young people, especially university students, away from their cell phones and the demands of society, even for a short retreat to enrich their spiritual lives,” Dung said.
“Thank God for this trip. It was a good opportunity for them to build their relationship with God, nature, and one another,” he added.
Dung is the university chaplain of the Catholic Student Network in the North of Thailand and director of the Seven Fountains Scholarship Fund.
The network aims to unify university-level Catholic students in Thailand, to educate and promote the right understanding, and to deepen the experience of Catholic faith in being the religion for life among other goals.
The network also works to raise social awareness in accordance with religious beliefs and to coordinate with other organizations.
Some of the students initially hesitant to participate in the retreat found the process uplifting.
“This is the first time I have joined this kind of retreat. Initially, I was hesitant to come along, but now, I found that it is worthy to be here,” said an unnamed student.
“Being alone is a good opportunity to slow down from the things that keep me busy,” the student said.
“I also have a chance to make new friends. Through this trip, I realized that my life will be more meaningful if I have time to stop and reflect,” the student added.
The retreat spanning two days and one night included participants traveling by motorbike from the spirituality center to St. Joseph Church in Ban Den Hom in Samoeng, covering around 85 kilometers.
During the motorbike backpacking, the group halted at three stops or prayer points taking a 20-minute break for silence or meditation.
The main themes which the students meditated on at each stop were: “letting go,” clearing their minds of thoughts and worries, finding the Lord in nature and creation, and engaging in self-reflection and thanksgiving.
The students took part in a Taize prayer and gathered around a campfire to share their experiences creatively through drama, singing, and dancing at Saint Joseph Church, their designated overnight stop.
The Taize prayer is a simple, meditative form of worship, calling individuals to dwell deeply on Christ's presence around and within them.
On the last leg of the retreat, the students shared their experiences of the entire process.
As of 2019, the Catholic Church in Thailand had some 388,000 Catholics, accounting for about half a percent of some 69 million people in the predominantly Buddhist nation.
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