Setting Captives Free: Racism, I and You and God’s Liberating Grace


Weeks of October 9, October 15, October 23, October 30, November 6, November 13, 2022

Introduction: When George Floyd was murdered in 2020 and the Black Lives Matter Movement emerged in many communities around the country, ministers of Ignatian Spirituality from Jesuit apostolates in the Washington, DC area sought to explore their personal complicity with systemic racism. They knew from experience that Ignatian Spirituality could tackle difficult topics. They wondered if the spirituality that they loved and practiced could help them and others uncover their complicity with unjust social structures, help them grow in interior freedom and with God’s grace open them to transformation.

Hovering in the background were the Society of Jesus’ invitations to conversion that are encapsulated in the Universal Apostolic Preferences.[1] (UAPs). The UAPs encourage Jesuits and their colleagues “to experience secular society as a sign of the times”[2] and to walk with “those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice”[3]. The Setting Captives Free … retreat incorporates these UAPs while drawing from a 450-year-old tradition of pointing a way to God through discernment and the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.[4]

Assumptions: The retreat initially was created for white people by individuals who identify as white.  Upon hearing of the retreat, friends who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) expressed a desire to reflect on the retreat.

 “We all have prejudices – this retreat is a powerful tool about racism.”           A young woman who identifies as AAIP

 “This retreat elicited a lot of emotions …the nuances of racism are found in the subtleties of our daily interactions.”
                                                                                                   A woman in her 50’s who identifies as African American

Drawing from the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises a milieu was created that was ‘grounded and infused with prayer, letting the Spirit guide each retreatant and the group. It was the sacredness and safety of the group under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that allowed the transformation from “I” to “we” to occur.”
                                                                                                                      Spiritual directors who identified as white

“For BIPOC there is a history of racist structures. I love this retreat –it asks me to consider how have I internalized what society has taught me.”                                                       A woman in her 40’s who identifies as African American

“I sense that I now have a firm and prayerful foundation under my feet and that I can now allow God to continue to transform me. This retreat feels like a beginning of a life-long conversation with God and a life-long commitment to cooperate in being changed in whatever way God chooses.”           A woman in her seventies who identifies as white


The retreat seeks to engage racial injustices in the context of Ignatian ways of praying and spiritual conversation. The retreat will invite participants to ‘center’ on their complicity with racist structures and be open to being ‘de-centered’ on oneself by God’s transforming and reconciling grace. The retreat may evoke difficult and uncomfortable feelings and experiences. Participants are encouraged to share what they feel safe sharing in their small group and/or privately with a confidant/spiritual director.

Intention: To give God a chance to enlighten our minds and change our hearts; to liberate individuals who identify as white and BIPOC from their personal and shared participation in racist social structures.

Content: The content of this retreat echoes the Preparation Days and the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises in the 19th Annotation format. It is not necessary to be familiar with the Spiritual Exercises to participate in this retreat. Themes of the retreat include:

  • God’s love for me, for those whom I know, for the whole human race, for all the institutions that support authentic human flourishing, for our home planet Earth and for the Cosmos.
  • God’s revelation to me/us for how I/we are influenced by, and complicit with sinful social structures that support and express racism and the harm they do.
  • Genuine contrition for my/our share in the harm sinful social structures that support and express racism, inflict.
  • A deepening desire to contribute to the transformation of aspects of those structures that I/we are involved in, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the divine Connector.

The retreat offers retreatants explicit gifts of revelation, repentance, lament and contrition and implicit gifts of transformation, reconciliation, and reparation, which may be given by God and received by the retreatant in God’s time.

Structure: A six-week directed retreat, praying for 30 minutes once a day, which includes a review of one’s prayer. A variety of prayer materials, e.g., Sacred Scripture, music, poetry, literature, artwork, etc. will be sent out each week via email. A resource booklet on how to pray in an Ignatian Way will be emailed to each person who registers for the retreat.

Meet once a week on Zoom with a small group of 6-8 individuals for 90 minutes of confidential spiritual conversation to share the fruits of their prayer (faith sharing). Each group will be composed of individuals from a specific racial group, e.g., those who identify as BIPOC will be in one group, those who identify as white will be in another group. We will not have mixed racial groups. Two facilitators who have made the retreat and are conversant in the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises will facilitate the groups.

We ask that participants not miss more than one meeting during the six-week retreat. Ninety-minute meetings will take place once during each of the following weeks: October 9, October 15, October 23, October 30, November 6, November 13. The opening session of the retreat will be Sunday, Oct 9 from 3-5pm EST on Zoom. The closing session will be Saturday, November 19, 10:30-12pm EST on Zoom.


1 UAPs – orientations to guide the Jesuits and their companions in a journey of conversion to share the Gospel of Jesus more authentically

2 UAP [1]

3 UAP [2]

4 UAP [1]