Jesuit retreat centre silences retail giant

A Jesuit retreat centre in Ontario, Canada, has won a 10-year battle with the US retail giant Walmart to ensure that a proposed store will not be seen or heard by retreatants.

The Globe and Mail reports that in an agreement announced on Tuesday, Wal-Mart will install high berms designed by acoustical engineers and a "living wall" of willows and six-metre-high cedars between its development and the Jesuits' 240-hectare spiritual retreat.

If the store's presence and traffic noise still intrude on religious practices at the Jesuit centre - typically people go there for weekend-long or eight-day silent retreats - the agreement requires Walmart to take further action.

The Jesuits and a local interfaith coalition in return will drop a court case claiming infringement of their rights to freedom of religion.

An appeal of an Ontario Municipal Board decision allowing the store to be built also will be abandoned.

The negotiations were tough, said Toronto lawyer Eric Gillespie, counsel for the faith group. Both sides agreed not to talk about what went on.

Fr James Profit, spiritual director of the Jesuit centre - a 93-year-old tract of farmland, meadows, woodlots and hermit cabins - would say only that he and Walmart officials "walked the land" together.

He also acknowledged some disappointment that the courts won't be asked to rule on whether silence and the night's darkness have legal as well as spiritual sanctity in the exercise of religion.

"It would have been nice. But it would have consumed a lot of resources. It would have been a very expensive answer," the The Globe and Mail quoted him as saying.

The centre, in Guelph about 80 kilometres southwest of Toronto, attracts retreatants from all over the world, but mainly from heavily populated Southern Ontario and upstate New York.

The hermit cabins on the property are used for solitary living. The land is also used for aboriginal and eastern religious practices.

"This was never about blocking commercial development, but about the protection of sacred spaces," Fr Profit said.

Jesuits win 10-year battle with Wal-Mart (Globe and Mail 19/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Loyola House, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

New law forces UK retreat houses to tolerate black masses (CathNews, 30/3/06)
US women Benedictines launch Taize-style ecumenical community (CathNews, 6/6/06)

20 Jul 2006