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Jesuit Pope

A Jesuit in the vineyard


LONG WAIT: Five centuries after the religious order was established, there is finally a Jesuit pope

Ignatian spirituality is part of Pope Francis's religious DNA. What does this mean for an order of priests described as a band of flaming revolutionaries?

On their 450th anniversary, a Jesuit historian, John Padberg, wrote: "To some they have been a suspect band of innovators (in today's version a group of flaming revolutionaries); to others a welcome group of religious well aware of the world and the Church;to yet others a bulwark of a retrograde papacy or, to those with a martial streak, militant soldiers of Christ, to many quite frankly a puzzlement ..."(The Tablet, September 22, 1990)

The Jesuits see themselves as "friends in the Lord" and "companions on mission" inspired by their founder St Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises and The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. Jesuits seek to live the three margas - karma, jnana, bhakti - in one comprehensive seva marga;men of action, learning and prayer, seeking "God in all things and all things in God", for the more universal good, guided by discerning love (charitas discrete) and rational obedience (obsequium rationabile).

Whether it was the Chinese Rites initiated by Mateo Ricci or the Malabar Rites introduced by Robert de Nobil, or the Paraguay Reductions for the indigenous Amerindians (dramatised in the British film, The Mission), bold Jesuit innovations have been controversial in ecclesiastical circles. Their special vow of obedience to the pope in regard to mission was considered disloyalty by national leaders, demanding Church subordination to their State. Eventually, Clement XIV was forced to suppress the Jesuits in 1773.

In aftermath of post-Napoleonic Europe, Pius VII restored the Society in 1814. The Jesuits were once again at the frontiers of the Church in obedience to the pope on new ventures in faraway places, at first more cautiously;but after the Second Vatican Council, more daringly in cutting-edge theology, liturgical movements, dialogue across Christian denominations and religious traditions;and after their 32nd General Congregation, 1974-75, call to the service of faith and the promotion of justice, very courageously in social involvements inspired by liberation theology and its option for the poor.

This precipitated a churning, a manthan, of the status quo in both Church and society. After a cardiac stroke incapacitated Father General Arrupe, John Paul II imposed his delegate on the order, 1981-1983, suspending its normal administration. Now, three decades after that suspension, two centuries after their restoration, and five after its foundation, the cardinal electors have given the Church its first Jesuit pope. After 52 years as a Jesuit surely Ignatian spirituality is embedded in Jorge Mario Bergoglio's religious DNA.

On March 15, the phone rang at the Jesuit curia: "This is Pope Francis. May I speak to Father General?" After a stunned silence: "This is not a joke. I am Pope Francis. Who are you?" Pope Francis had to calm a stuttering Brother Andrea, the receptionist, before he was put though to Brother Wobeto, the General's personal secretary, who managed: "Holy Father, we are praying much for you. " "Praying for what?" asked the pope. "To go ahead or to go back?" Finally, a disoriented Father Adolfo Nicol?s came on the line calling him: 'Pope', 'Your Holiness', 'Monsignor' . . . . The pope thanked him for his personal letter of congratulations and support and wanted to meet soon. Was the pope anticipating the traditional meeting of the Superior General of the Jesuits with a newly elected pope to renew the vow of obedience in the name of the whole order?

But before that meeting, on March 17, Father General went "at the personal invitation of the Pope Francis" to meet him at Santa Marta House, which housed the cardinal electors. Pope Francis greeted him at the entrance with a Jesuit embrace and insisted on being addressed with the familiar 'tu', not the formal "Holiness" or "Holy Father". Father General's report is movingly revealing. I quote in full:

"I offered him all our Jesuit resources . . . He showed gratitude for this and at the invitation to visit us for lunch at the Curia he said he would oblige. There was full commonality of feeling on several issues that we discussed and I remained with the conviction that we will work very well together for the service of the Church in the name of the Gospel. There was calm, humour and mutual understanding about past, present and future. I left the place with the conviction that it will be worth cooperating fully with Him in the Vineyard of the Lord. At the end he helped me with my coat and accompanied me to the door . . . A Jesuit embrace, again, is a good way to meet and send off a friend. "

These two incidents help lift the veil on what the Jesuit connection with a Jesuit pope might presage for an international religious order in a globalised Church.


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