August 17, 2015

VANCOUVER - Spiritual retreats should not be limited to the middle class, says Ted Penton.

A Jesuit in formation, Penton leads retreats for homeless people through the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP), which runs in 27 North American cities. Penton visited Vancouver July 11-17 to see if it could be the next city to offer retreats to the homeless.

"It's a narrow demographic coming through the doors (of retreat houses)­ - people who are middle class, people who have some money," he said.


"Wouldn't it be great to reach out to a different population that has both a vibrant spiritual life, but also real hunger to deepen that and a real need to find some direction in their lives, to find some hope, to find that foundation of love that is going to be at the basis of any long-term recovery?"

Each year Penton, facilitates 12 overnight retreats and a few day programs for the homeless. Retreatants must be at least two months sober to join.

"The 12 steps parallel very closely the Ignatian spirituality. Working with people who are in the 12-step program is great," he said. "They are already on that spiritual path."

ISP was founded in Chicago in 1998. The only Canadian city on board is Victoria.

"It really is a true support for people as they want to journey toward new places and new lives," said Margaret O'Donnell, executive director of Oasis Society for the Spiritual Health of Victoria.


Her organization offers meals and retreats for people on the street.

About six years ago O'Donnell realized that "if any of these folks start to do well and get on their feet, they are going to need something more solid than what we're doing here."

Judy Graves, a well-known advocate for the homeless, said, "People in the Downtown Eastside who come into early recovery are often well experienced with God's having kept them alive in the streets.

"Often they find it difficult to integrate their spiritual past with the miracle of the present and the terror of the unknowable life ahead."