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30 November, 1999

‘Kairos’ is a Greek word meaning ‘right or opportune moment’ and is used in theology to describve a time with grace potential. Contrasting with ‘chronos’, meaning ‘ordinary or chronological time’, ‘kairos’ means holy or God-given time, laden with meaning and choice. Kairos signals new possibliities, repentance, renewal and action. Tess Martin tells of a new movement with this name.

It can be a pinnacle moment, or a stream of moments in response to small injustices that encourage us to speak or act for good.

Many times throughout the last century, Christians worldwide have sought to identify and respond to grace-filled moments. Kairos/USA emerged fifteen years ago and spread to Europe. Around the mid-1990s, the pastoral ministry in Ireland’s Jesuit second-level schools became interested and some went to America to study the concept of the Kairos retreat. Gonzaga College began the first Kairos retreat in 1997, followed by the other Jesuit schools in Ireland – Belvedere, Clongowes, Coldiste lognaid and Crescent.

The first core tenet of the Kairos retreat is that it is peer-led. The school retreat typically takes place over four days with Sixth Year students presenting the themes to Fifth Years. The second core tenet is that the retreat invites participants to reflect upon four main questions.

Patricia O’Connor is Slí Eile’s Kairos coordinator. ‘The theme in a Kairos retreat is stepping back from the world to look at yourself, then look at who is God, who is Jesus, and what that means for me. It is about moving out into the world and applying the decisions you have made.’

There is a new initiative to support people in how they live. The first third-level Kairos retreat was held in Dublin last November, an event for which the Kairos team spent seventeen months in preparation. This included a trip to the Jesuit-run Boston College, to look at how they ran Kairos university retreats there. Then the team got letter-writing in Ireland.

‘We contacted students who had graduated from a Jesuit school in Ireland in recent years, who had either participated in a Kairos retreat, or led one, and invited them to be part of the first post-school team,’ says Patricia.

When the ex-pupils – now third-level students – responded, the planning group was gratified to learn that most of them looked back very favourably on their Kairos experience.

‘It was all very positive. People said things like, “During the retreat, I found myself”, “it was a time out”, “I touched base with myself”,’ she says. `Many had already found their niche in university: they were friends with like-minded people; some were doing voluntary work of various types.’

Patricia is not surprised at the long-term impact: ‘I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Belvedere retreat last year, and it’s a case of no barriers. The presenters speak the same language as their listeners, you hear someone the same age as you, rather than the usual older person with whom you may not identify.’ She agreed that the leaders are to be commended for standing up in front of their peers: ‘They have great courage, they put themselves out there, and share aspects of their own lives.’

Now for the first time, the Kairos retreat will be available to university students. A retreat team has been formed from ex-students. Six adults in their early 20s were recruited as leaders for the first retreat with spaces for thirty participants. Leaders are drawn from a range of student faculties including Business, Law, Politics and Physiotherapy.

The retreat was held in Dublin. Each group leader was responsible for a group of six, supported by coordinator, Patricia O’Connor and director, Fr. Myles O’Reilly, SJ. A second Kairos weekend retreat for post-second level students is scheduled for next month, February 2008.

The team formation process is an important part of the planning process. ‘The leaders would not have signed up for this if we were changing it in any way; they are faithful to the original Kairos retreat. The fact that it is peer-led, that the leaders have experienced a Kairos retreat themselves, is important. The team really believe in Kairos, what it is and does, and they must be able to get up and sell it to their peers,’ says Patricia.

Thus, the core message remains the same. Every team leader is assigned a talk, a speaker and a topic. The topics examined are, Who Am I? Who is Jesus in my Life? What does that mean for the Living of the Message? Each leader gives a thirty-minute input. There are six talks spread over three days with times for small group discussion, prayer, questions and the Eucharist.

After the retreat, participants are not left unsupported. ‘We have been in contact with the university chaplains so that students who have done the Kairos retreat can become involved with their chaplaincy at college, or get involved in voluntary work such as joining the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. There is also Slí Eile, where we have a lot of programmes available, a small faith-sharing group and international trips. We had an Advent retreat shortly after the end of the Kairos retreat, so there are lots of opportunities to become involved.’

While Kairos is a Jesuit initiative, Patricia O’Connor says they are happy to share it with other congregations, schools, colleges and communities. If interested, contact her at Slí Eile, telephone 01 – 888 0606, or e-mail: [email protected] 

This article first appeared in The Messenger (January 2008), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.

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