July 20, 2017 — Over Independence Day weekend, a group of U.S. veterans gathered at the White House Jesuit Retreat in St. Louis to reflect on God’s presence throughout their military experience.
The second annual Veterans White House Jesuit Retreat helped participants focus on their military service and how God was with them and continues to be with them. The weekend delved in to the trauma created by PTSD and the guilt and shame that can accompany military experience.
This unique retreat was prompted by Pope Francis’ call in October 2015 to nourish the ethical and spiritual dimensions of military personnel and their families. The pope said that we as a community must teach them prayer as a way of dealing with their new reality.
The retreat was led by Jesuit Father Jim Conroy, co-founder of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, rector at Wheeling Jesuit University and a Vietnam veteran. The weekend consisted of a series of talks by Fr. Conroy, followed by small breakout sessions and quiet reflection. The veterans had the chance to listen to other veterans’ stories and came together through sharing their experiences.
"I have great empathy for men and women who have been in the military, in some cases having experienced horrible things," said Fr. Conroy, who also led the inaugural veterans retreat last year. "It's a complicated life.
"Military service can be a time that is pretty dreadful but it also can be a time that's pretty beautiful. You've got to be able to find God in places that are real hard but in places that are also real beautiful.”