Setting Captives Free: Racism and God’s Liberating Grace


Weeks of February 19, February 26, March 5,
March 12, March 19, and March 26, 2023
Register by February 5, 2023

Introduction: In the summer of 2020 when 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]

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.

It is not necessary to be familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola 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: February 19, February 26, March 5, March 12, March 19, and March 26, 2023.

Registration has now closed

Reflections from retreatants in the Lenten and Fall 2022 cohorts:

“Ours was noted as a race affinity group. I appreciated that it was such an intimate group. I also think that because all the participants were people of color, although not primarily Black, there was a trust and a vulnerability to the space that allowed perhaps a quicker cohesion. I’ve also not been in a primarily Asian affinity group, so that was a good experience for me, as an Asian”. Retreatant, Lent 2022

“I thoroughly trusted the source of the activity. The leadership of the group made this qualitatively different than other activities I’ve been doing. This is the first anti-racism activity within the Jesuit/Ignatian network that felt well-designed from a “wholecloth” perspective. The focus here has always been the spiritual life.” Retreatant, Lent 2022

“The slow transformation, or really opening of my eyes and heart, has been interior work in the context of prayer. The other spaces I have been in where we discussed racism was more “exterior” in nature, in other words – there were talks or meetings, but this retreat was real interior work and intentional prayer with God. I especially appreciated doing this in the context of Ignatian spirituality.” Retreatant, Lent 2022

“These [supplementary materials] were the best surprise, connecting with Black writers and poets on racism and living in an anti-Black world that I help create and sustain. I take these above all.” Retreatant, Fall 2022

“I have participated in other programs about racism, and this retreat’s focus on scripture and Ignatian spiritual principles was a new and fruitful structure for my going deeper into my complicity in White supremacy & racism.” Retreatant, Fall 2022

Registration has now closed.


1 Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAP) – 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]