.- This year's week-long Vatican retreat to begin the Lenten season will focus in part on Pope Benedict XVI's predecessor. The March 13-19 talks in the Apostolic Palace will center on "The Light of Christ in the Heart of the Church - John Paul II and the Theology of the Saints," the Vatican announced on Feb. 4.
In addition to deepening the intense spiritual season of Lent, the theme of the meditations will also prepare attendees for the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II.
The annual series of spiritual exercises for the Pope, members of the Roman Curia and other Church officials will be given by a Frenchman, the Discalced Carmelite Fr. Francois-Marie Lethel.
Fr. Lethel serves as the secretary of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. He is also a professor of theology and spirituality at the Pontifical Teresianum University.
He is a prolific author, writing often on the lives of saints. One of his major works examines the theology of saints to explain God's boundless love. His course load at the Teresianum this year includes a class on the love of Christ in the teaching of John Paul II.
By leading the Pope's spiritual exercises, he carries on a Vatican tradition started in 1929.
Normally, the exercises take place in the Vatican's "Redemptoris Mater" Chapel. Cardinals, bishops, superior generals and members of the Roman Curia and Papal Household join the Pope for the series. Meditations generally do not last more than a half hour and can also include praying the Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharistic adoration.
Salesian Fr. Enrico dal Covolo gave 17 short talks on "Lessons from God and the Church on the Priestly Vocation" during last year's meditations. He and Fr. Lethel are contemporaries at the Vatican's academy for theologians.
At the conclusion of the week of exercises, the Pope address the gathering.