03/18/2015, 00.00
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Mumbai: online spiritual retreat for people who have to work

by Nirmala Carvalho
Fr Errol Fernandes SJ, professor of Scriptures at Mumbai's archdiocesan seminary, is behind the initiative. This year's 'Net Retreat' will run from 23 March to 5 April. "It is my constant endeavour to make God's word as practical and tangible as possible."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Fr Errol Fernandes SJ, a professor of Scripture at the seminary of the Archdiocese of Mumbai, is behind 'Net Retreat,' a set of spiritual exercises undertaken during Lent for people of all religions who do not have the time to take time off work.

Fr Fernandes organised the first retreat of this kind in 2001 for a couple. Since then, it has grown by leaps and bounds. All it takes to join is to write to netretreat2015@gmail.com.

This year's edition will be held between 23 March and 5 April. During the two-week period, the Jesuit priest will send participants material for prayer, including a YouTube video, an MP3 file and a Word document. For their part, the participants have to keep a daily journal, in which they write down what they feel.

What follows is AsiaNews's interview with Fr Errol Fernandes SJ.

Why have a spiritual retreat online and how many people have registered?

Net Retreat begun in 2001 for a couple who wanted to undertake a Retreat but could not find the time to meet me in person. Since that year, I have had five Net Retreats and the number of Retreatants has grown every year.

In 2003, there were one hundred participants mostly from India. In 2005 and again in 2011, I had two Retreats with participants from many parts of the world: 300 and 500 respectively.

All these Retreats were in the Word Format, with participants getting a Word document in their e-mail inbox every morning with instructions for prayer. This material is sufficient for at least two hours of prayer.

In 2013, I changed the set-up and sent the material in three formats, one of which was a link to a YouTube talk by me; another was an attachment of an Mp3 recording; and a third was a word document. The material was similar and sent in three formats to cater to people of all tastes.

Some had slow Internet connections and were not able to see and hear the talks on YouTube. This Retreat had over 1,000 people who registered. The actual number was greater since many requested permission to forward the mails to their contacts, to which I agreed.

Many in the church propose fasting from the net and social media like Facebook during Lent. However, you are using the new media to preach the Gospel.

Fasting can never be an end in itself. The proposals to fast from that which one is addicted to or dependent on is in the right spirit of fasting. It is to show that one is totally dependent only on God and also to show that external things cannot hold or control us.

However, if external things are being used for good then they may be used. The key point is not to make idols out of anything (1Jn 5:21).

What worries you and what are the challenges of your 'Net Retreat'?

The parable of the seed growing secretly helps me realise that I have only to do ALL that is required of me and leave the rest in God's hands.

It asks me to sow, sleep at night, and rise in the day and assures me that the seed will grow. This is why I am quite relaxed after I do what is required of me.

However, with regard to doing what is required of me, I believe that the biggest challenge is relevance. It is my constant endeavour to make God's word as practical and tangible as possible. I am of the firm opinion that the Scriptures contain the answer to all of life's questions.

Our job is to find it in them and to read it in a manner that we can understand. This is what I try to do in the talks and written material.

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