VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Less than a week before he was to take top Vatican officials and head out of town for a weeklong Lenten retreat, Pope Francis said retreats should renew the faith of participants, transforming their ministry and their relationships with others.

“Those who live a retreat in an authentic way,” the pope said, “experience the attraction and fascination of God and return renewed and transfigured in their daily lives, their ministry and their relationships.”

The pope met March 3 with an Italian federation of spiritual directors and those who run retreat houses throughout the country, offering Christians “space and time to listen intensely to the word of God in silence and in prayer.”

Pope Francis and senior members of the Roman Curia were scheduled to hold their annual Lenten retreat March 9-14. The Vatican had announced in October that rather than holding the daily Lenten prayers and meditations in the Vatican, Pope Francis had decided the retreat would be at the Pauline Fathers’ retreat and conference center in Ariccia, a town about 20 miles southeast of Rome.

The Vatican press office distributed copies of the 20th annotation from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. The note encourages people making a retreat to leave their home, their office and “all earthly care” to concentrate only on their prayer and meditation.

“The more our soul finds itself alone and isolated, the more apt it makes itself to approach and to reach its Creator and Lord, and the more it so approaches him, the more it disposes itself to receive graces and gifts from his divine and sovereign goodness,” the annotation says.

In an interview published March 5 by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Pope Francis said he thought it was necessary to give the annual retreat more importance. “Everyone has a right to spend five days in silence and meditation,” he said, but when the retreat was at the Vatican, many of the participants would listen to the talks, then go back to their offices and work.

The Prefecture of the Pontifical Household published the retreat schedule March 5, including the fact that those making the retreat — presumably including the pope — would leave the Vatican at 4 p.m. March 9 and travel to Ariccia by bus.

The first evening, the schedule calls for vespers; the first meditation by Msgr. Angelo De Donatis, a popular spiritual director and pastor of a parish in the center of Rome; eucharistic adoration; and dinner. Msgr. De Donatis’ theme is “The purification of the heart.”

From March 10 to 13, the pope and his top aides would begin their day with Mass, breakfast and a meditation by Msgr. De Donatis. After lunch at 12:30, the program leaves the retreat participants with free time until another meditation at 4 p.m., followed by vespers, adoration and dinner.

On the final day, March 14, the retreatants will celebrate Mass together, have breakfast, listen to the last meditation, and then leave for the Vatican at 10:30 a.m.