‘Put your lives at stake’: Pope Francis in dialogue with the Jesuits of Central America
1
Pope Francis

 Pope Francis / Free Articles / Published Date:14 February 2019/Last Updated Date:19 February 2019

On January 26, 2019, at 3:45 p.m., Pope Francis met 30 Jesuits at the Nunciature in Panama. They came from the Central American Province, which includes Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Among them were the Provincial Superior, Father Rolando Enrique Alvarado López, the Master of Novices, Father Silvio Avilez, and 18 young novices. As Francis entered the meeting room, the Jesuits intoned a song that is well known throughout the Society: “En todo amar y servir” (To love and serve in all things). Then the pope greeted them all one by one before taking his place and beginning the conversation.

(Antonio Spadaro, SJ)

Thank you for your visit. On my travels I like meeting “our own,” as we used to say when I was young.[1] I want to start with a request: there are provinces of the Society that complain about having no novices… Father Provincial, you must share with them your special recipe! Now, ask whatever you want, what interests you, what you are curious about. We can organize a dialogue like this. I haven’t prepared anything. Your choice…

La Civilta Cattolica

In your homily to the bishops, after speaking about Monsignor Romero, you quoted Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande. How is his cause for beatification going?

Rutilio is very dear to me.[2] At the entrance to my room there is a frame containing a piece of cloth with Romero’s blood and notes from a catechesis by Rutilio. I was a devotee of Rutilio even before coming to know Romero better. When I was in Argentina, his life influenced me, his death touched me. Well informed people tell me that the declaration of martyrdom is going well. And this is an honor… men of this kind… Rutilio, moreover, was the prophet. He “converted” Romero.

There is a vision here: the dimension of prophecy, that of one who is a prophet by the testimony of his life, and not only as those who are so because they teach and go around speaking. He is a prophet by witness. He said what he had to say, but it was his testimony, his martyrdom, that eventually moved Romero. This was the grace. So do turn to him with your prayers!

You were a master of novices, right? In what years?

I started in February or March, I don’t recall well, in 1972. I did it until the Feast of Saint Ignatius in 1973, when I became provincial. So, for a year and a half.

To you, who were a novice master, I ask a question as a novice master today at the beginning of the 21st century, when situations are vastly different from those turbulent years of the 1970s in Latin America. Is there something you recommended to your novices, something that we should continue to repeat to novices today?

Among the things that applied then that could be transferred to today and remain relevant, I would highlight one thing: clarity of conscience. There is no room for dishonest men: the Society of Jesus doesn’t need them. When you read the letters of Saint Francis Xavier, you see how strongly he felt about certain things being known: what Jesus does in the heart of each person, and how the devil disturbs and the world seduces.

This spirit needs to be united to a great trust. Therefore, the master of novices should not be a fearful person. He must be open, very open, not be afraid of anything, have no fear of anything, and instead be sharp, able to say: “Be careful of this; look, this thing you’re telling me about is dangerous; this is a grace, go on like this.” He needs to know how to discern. A person who is not afraid, a man of discernment.

So, clarity of conscience. When I am with novices, I say to them: look, if you don’t get used to being transparent now, it’d be best you leave. Because things will go badly. Falling short of transparency, even for something small, is something that can happen in every process of growth. But be careful, for if you do not recover quickly, there will come a time when the Society won’t know what to do with that person, because the bond of fraternity is broken, our being companions in the Lord. At that point the person will go on by deceit, by excuses, by sickness. Anything that will let him do what he wants. Maybe people who behave like this will get to paradise. But what an ugly life, my God, what a superficial life! It’s best to get out, maybe get married, have children and be in peace. But living like this, without a clarity of conscience, is to live on the edge of the Society without entering inside.

I’d really insist on this. Clearly it is a delicate matter. In fact, the novice master needs to have an ability to respect, to not be afraid, to listen, to encourage. To be more demanding.

This can be true for superiors, too. Sometimes you might wish that such and such a person had not been so clear in conscience, because he has an issue that you don’t know how to resolve. But it is the clarity of conscience that makes us Jesuits. Moreover, the Jesuit has to know that the superior loves him and that the dialogue is in God.

I told an anecdote in a recently published book-interview on the consecrated life.[3] It’s about a superior. A young man was doing his regency teaching in a Spanish college and his mother had terminal cancer.[4] And in the city where the mother was living there was another college run by the Society. One day, when the provincial came to visit, among other things the young man said, “Listen, my mother is sick. She has less than a year to live. I know you need to send a teacher to that other college. Please, send me; that way I can be close to my mother for her last moments.” The provincial listened very carefully and replied: “I have to discern. I need to think about it.” And the young man left in peace.

This happened around lunch time. The provincial was due to leave the next morning, at sunrise. The young man carried on as normal for the afternoon, and that evening he stopped to pray in the chapel for his mother, for everything to come to a good end… He stayed late and when he went to his room he found an envelope from the provincial. He opened it… It was a letter dated the following day in which the provincial had written: “After having reflected in the presence of the Lord and having sought his divine will… [and similar affirmations…], and after having celebrated the Eucharist [the one of the next day!], I think you should stay in this college.” What had happened? The provincial had to leave early and so went ahead with his work, he had written and left all the letters with the minister,[5] who was to have delivered them the next day. But seeing that it was late and all were asleep, the minister had delivered them immediately.

That Jesuit did not leave the Society. He would have had a good reason to do so!

So, it is true that sometimes clarity of conscience ends up in a counter-testimony of this sort, a hypocrisy! Moreover, the provincial was playing with discernment, with the Mass, with everything! That superior had no scruples. He was the type of superior who always seems to be balanced, who plays on this. Worldly superiors with the spirit of the world. And, therefore, superiors too do not always help another to have a clarity of conscience, and they have a responsibility.

A superior should be very humble, very fraternal, and know that the day will come when he will have to open his conscience to another superior. I insist on this: transparency. Get it into your heads! Work on this! Otherwise you’ll be a failure. You’ll be inconsistent Jesuits. And then it would be better you went away, better to be good fathers of a family.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but it is one of the central things for the Society, it ensures love for Christ, the following of Christ. That’s how I was formed…

How do you see the vocation of the religious brother today?

There are three vocations in the Society: the professed, the spiritual coadjutor and the brother.[6] In 1974, at the time of the 32nd Congregation, which started on December 3, there was a lot of talk about equality. It was thought that the difference between the professed and the spiritual coadjutor was a social injustice. There had been some ideological infiltration. All in all, the wind was blowing in the direction of making all of them professed, so that, for them, all would be equal. Father Arrupe had to react. If that were to happen, something important for the Society would be lost. At the time, another vision appeared; it too was ideological: that the service of brothers in the Society was a sort of social injustice. It was a question of “social level,” as if Brother Antonio García, the custodian of the Nagasaki Martyrs Museum, was a “servant” in the classical and sociological sense of the word. And yet he was wiser than all of us here put together. And he helped so many with his counsel. The brother is the one who has the purest charism in the Society: serve, serve, serve.

Before, you sang En todo amar y servir. The brother is like that. Concretely. Some of the brothers I have known were “colorful” and had their defects… Some fought much, some for their religious life, as heroes, and they weren’t helped enough in their struggles and difficulties. I recall one in particular. He had the clarity of conscience, but was a bit of a ladies man. That poor brother kept falling in love. And humbly he would come and say, “Father, I do nothing other than look for a fiancée.” Perhaps he should have never entered the Society! But they were men who were transparent and capable of evaluating situations. Here there is a vocation to service in a different way: in the same fraternity, with the same religious dignity, not simply sociologically, as they tried to define it once upon a time.

Some made comparisons and said: “The brother is the mother!” No, no, no. That’s not right. The mother is the Society, and one mother is enough. But a brother is someone whose head is oriented toward practical matters, he looks at concrete matters, he knows how to move in the real world, whatever he does. As a nurse, a cook, a porter, a teacher. He has another dimension. It is not the Jesuit way to judge his brothers according to a sociological profile. This means removing his service from its proper context.

Among the brothers we had in Argentina, some had their defects certainly, but they were people of caliber. I recall one, a holy man. He was a Croatian who had fled his homeland and ended up in Belgium, at Charleroi, where he worked in the mines. He had always kept his devotion. He wanted to become a religious. He didn’t know where. He emigrated to Argentina and entered the Society there. He was a very simple man. He oversaw the workshop. He was in charge of all the tools and odd jobs. And to use the words of his trade, he had the key for everything, he saw things as they were, but he didn’t open his mouth unless asked by a superior.

I have known many like him: they were like oak trees. Many were Spaniards and came to Argentina. The province of Loyola was a “factory” for brothers. The Basques who came to us, the ones that I knew, were solid men.

Why am I giving you all these examples? To say that the vocation of a brother should not be considered from a sociological point of view, but from the point of view of what brothers really are in their specific vocation as Saint Ignatius wanted them in the Society. I don’t want to exaggerate, but when I was provincial perhaps the simplest and most precise considerations about those preparing for ordination were given to me by the brothers. They said: “Yes, OK, OK. But be careful about this problem…” Or: “This person has some defects, but also this virtue…” Overall, nothing escaped them. They had a special eye. In the Society, the brother significantly influenced the collective body and the community. You need to encourage them, as with any Jesuit, for them to give the best of themselves. But encouragement doesn’t have to be founded only on a sociological or ideological motivation, as though the brother were to need encouragement to feel themselves  persons! If he doesn’t feel himself to be a person, he needs to rethink his vocation. And the brother has no need of cosmetics. This vocation should not be lost! I don’t know if I have answered your question.

We are in the context of World Youth Day and various meetings with young people are taking place. On the day of welcome you spoke at the “Cinta Costera” about the culture of encounter. You believe that encounter is a strong theme for our young people, who are invaded by so much information technology. It seems that encounters are sometimes cut short and that nearness is mediated by the network.

Listen, the virtual world helps us create contacts, but not encounters. Sometimes it fabricates meetings, seducing you with contacts. This was well interpreted by the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman. He wrote his last book with his Italian aide and died while working on the final chapter. His widow gave it to the aide and told him: “You finish it and publish it. Put my husband’s name on it,” for he was his disciple and knew him well. And it was published in Italian.[7] It’s called Nati liquidi (Born Liquid), which indicates inconsistency. The German edition has translated the title Die Entwurzelten, which means “without roots.” For Germans those who are born liquid have no roots. Exactly. That’s exactly right.

What does a purely virtual world do, being isolated in itself? It satisfies you. It gives you artificial consolation but it does not tie you to your roots. It sends you into orbit. It takes away the concrete dimension. This risks being a world of contacts – I said this to the bishops – but not a world of encounters. And this is dangerous. Very dangerous. Young people need to receive some serious direction about this. Guidance that won’t leave them feeling dispossessed, but enriched. Those of you who work with young people, for example in a college, have the task of helping them to encounter.

And why, today, is there a crisis of encounter? It’s a crisis of roots. The middle generation – at least in Europe and in my homeland – that is, the parents of the young people, do not have the strength to pass on their roots. Because they are broken people, often competing with children. It is the grandparents who give the roots. They are still in time to do so. Roots are given by the elderly. This is why, when I say the young people should meet with the elderly, I am not expressing a Romantic notion. Get them to speak. At the beginning, the young people say they are fed up, bored, they are silent.

I have experience of suggesting to young people and youth groups to play the guitar for the guests of a retirement home. They’d say: “No, they’re old.” But then, when they went there, they didn’t want to leave. One song, then another. “Why don’t you sing me this?” and “In my day…” and so on. The elderly reawaken… And I refer to chapter 3 of the Book of Joel: the elderly will dream and the young will prophesy. The elderly start to dream, to talk, and the young people prophesy: not what the elderly have said to them, but what the dreams of the elderly reawaken in them.

This is encounter. This is reality. But you need to go to the roots. Today, what virtual culture proposes to us is something liquid, gassy, rootless, without a trunk, with nothing. The same thing is happening in the economic and financial sphere. I read a few days ago about the meeting in Davos and how the general debt of countries is much higher than the gross product of all of them put together. This is like the fraud of a pyramid scheme: figures are bloated, millions and billions, but there is nothing but smoke to sustain them, it’s all liquid, gassy, and sooner or later it will collapse.

Today, the virtue that is required from all, and much more from a Jesuit, is that of concreteness. Like that confessor we had at the Colegio Máximo who heard confessions in the evenings. He was very old. When we made our examinations of conscience, some would go to confession, and outside his door there was always a line. The confessor went quickly, saying only a few words. But one of our companions, a very spiritual, angelic chap, once told us that he had been to him for confession and would never go back. “He mistreated me, he attacked me,” he said. And obviously we were curious…what could this angel have said that would get him scolded in this way? And he told the story: “I began by telling him my difficulties. And he said: get to the point, get to the point!” In fact, he was so used to hearing big things that when this man came to tell him angelic, liquid things, he didn’t believe him at all and exhorted him to unveil himself. Concrete! Enough with your head in the clouds.

But how can we ensure that young people are concrete? Father La Manna comes to mind. He is now at the Massimo Institute in Rome. This man was able to bring concreteness to his institution, one of the chicest schools in Rome; he was able to create in the kids a strong social spirit. Concreteness. Away with the ethereal stuff. Concrete spiritual life. An engaged, concrete life. The life of friendship, concreteness. This is how people will be saved. But let us get back to the dialogue with the elderly: please, do it before it is too late! For they are an anchor able to save our youth.

Seeing the testimony that characterized the Society of Jesus in Central America, what do you think we can bring to the universal Church?

In America you were pioneers in the years of the Christian social struggles. You were pioneers. If Father Arrupe wrote the Letter on Christians and Marxist Analysis to speak about the reality in liberation theology, it was because there were some Jesuits who were becoming confused. They did not have evil intentions, but they were confused. And at that point the father had to put things in order, put them back into focus. At that time whenever people condemned liberation theology, they were condemning all of the Jesuits in Central America. I heard terrible condemnations. And those who accepted it, accepted everything without making any distinctions. Anyhow, history has helped discern and purify. These are the processes of purification. But if I am not wrong, you were pioneers, with your sins, with your errors, but still pioneers.

In those times one day I took a plane to go to a meeting. I was going from Buenos Aires, but as the ticket cost less, I flew via Madrid to then go on to Rome. A Central American bishop boarded the flight in Madrid. I greeted him, he greeted me; we sat together and began to speak. I asked him about the cause of Romero and he replied: “Absolutely out of the question. It would be like canonizing a Marxist.” That was just the prelude. He went on in the same vein. In the episcopate there were different visions; there were even those who condemned the line taken by the Jesuits. And, in fact, that bishop went from criticizing Romero to criticizing the Jesuits of Central America. He was not the only one to think like that. At the time, some other members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy were very close to the regimes of the moment, they were very “inserted.”

At a meeting in Rome I met a provincial, one accused of being on the left. I asked him about liberation theology and he gave me a very objective panorama, even critical about some Jesuits, but showing me the positive direction. For someone looking at all of this from the outside, however, it all seemed much, much harder to accept. The idea was that canonizing Romero was impossible because that man wasn’t even a Christian; he was a Marxist! And so they attacked him. There were also good seeds in that storm. Some exaggerated, yes, but then they came back. There have always been exaggerations.

Some people embellished things more than others, true, but the substance was different. You were there in the middle of that revolution. And it would be good if you were to reread the history of those men. There were people like Rutilio, who did all that he could do and never went off the rails. From the ideological point of view, Rutilio never became disoriented, but there were some others around at that time who did lose their way a bit, because they were obsessed with the philosophy of a particular author and on that basis reread the facts and got their inspiration to act. But this is to be human, understandable in difficult circumstances.

The dictatorships that you had in Central America were those of terror. What is important is to not let yourself be pushed around by ideologies, either to one side or the other, and not even by the worst one of all, which is the aseptic ideology. “Have nothing to do with it!”: It is the worst ideology. That was the vision of the bishop I met in the airplane. He was aseptic. Arrupe was very clear about this in his discernment. He defended all, but he corrected each one in private concerning what needed correcting, if something needed correcting. This is typical of the superior: defend all… And therefore the account of conscience is important, for in it the screws are tightened. This is my opinion.

Today we old people laugh about how worried we were about liberation theology. What was missing then was communication to the outside about how things really were. There were many ways of interpreting this. Certainly, some fell into Marxist analysis. But let me tell you a funny thing: the one most persecuted, Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian, concelebrated Mass with me and the then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Müller. And it happened because Müller himself brought him to me as his friend. If anybody had said back then that the prefect of the CDF would have brought Gutiérrez to concelebrate with the pope, they would have taken him for a drunk.

History is the teacher of life. We learn as we go along. One thing that did me much good along my way was reading The History of the Popes by Ludwig von Pastor. It is a bit lengthy at 37 tomes. I discovered in it, above all, the era of the expulsion of the Society, but not only that. History teaches us. Without going too far, I recommend for your reading the four volumes by Giacomo Martina, the great professor at the Gregorian, on the history of the Church from Luther until our days. It is a pleasant read as he has great prose. It will guide you through the problems of modernism… Returning to history to understand situations. Without condemning people and without sanctifying them in advance. I don’t know if I have answered.

Some of us will soon make our profession of vows. What can you tell us?

The vows are perpetual! They are not perpetual for the superior who receives them, but for you all who pronounce them, yes.[8] There’s no messing around here. If someone doesn’t feel right, don’t make them. Take some more time. Try it out? No, not at all. For you, they are perpetual, for all of life.

Put your life at stake: that is one of the most endangered things today. Indeed, we live in an era when the provisional prevails over the definitive. Always. For example, it is said: “I marry for all of life … as long as the love lasts.” It’s as if we said: “I marry for three or four years, then, at the first sign of trouble, the first cooling off of love, I’ll seek another companion.” A bishop who came to see me told how a young lawyer, newly graduated, 23 years old, zealous and sociable, said to him: “I want to be a priest, but just for 10 years!” This is provisional! A book by José Comblin from 40 or 50 years ago, now unfindable, titled O provisório e o definitivo (The Provisional and the Definitive), speaks of the philosophy of the culture emerging today: it is a provisional culture. All there is, for as long as it lasts. As long as consolation lasts, as long as they are treating me well…

And sometimes life does not treat you well; it treats you as a delinquent. And if you love the One who was treated like a delinquent, you’ll have no choice but to persist. It is final, with all that the third week of the Spiritual Exercises entails.[9] With all that the colloquy of the Two Standards signifies.[10] This was not a cavalier invention by Ignatius, but his own experience. This implies asking to be humiliated, to suffer humiliations for the love of Christ, without having given cause. Vows are perpetual, with a style of life that has to be that of the Exercises, according to which they can send you to do any sort of work, anything: be it teaching religion to children or lecturing at university, or even, who knows, being a tightrope walker at the circus… The Society can send you to do anything. This is what I mean by final. The time: definitive. The style: that of the Exercises. The availability: to do anything. To love and to serve, as you sang at the beginning. You didn’t say this to be nice and helpful. To love and to serve is the nucleus. Do not be afraid! Courage.

 I have a question on inculturation concerning the peoples of our America. I speak from my own experience as I belong to Maya culture. What do you think of those priests and bishops who try to make all the youth the same from the very start of their formation? Practically, alas, formation becomes obfuscation and one’s identity is hidden. What do you think of those priests who feel they are no longer in harmony with the people they came from?

My grandmother was a strong believer in catechesis. She told us that in life we had to be humble and not forget that we were born in a humble family. She, who came from Northern Italy, told us of a family in one Italian town that sent a son to study at university. She told us that this really happened. It was a family of farmers. The son didn’t come home until he finished his degree. He had no way of getting home. And once he did get home, he asked his father: “What’s that tool called? And that other one?” “That’s a shovel, my boy.” “Oh, a shovel. And that other thing, what is it?” “That is a hammer.” “Oh, a hammer.” He had grown up there but remembered nothing. “And this other tool, what is it called?” His father told him. There was also a rake. And the young man, distractedly, stepped on it. It sprung up and hit him on the head. And he exclaimed. “Ouch, a rake!” [Here the pope imitated the gesture, provoking general laughter].

Anyone who forgets his own culture needs a rake in his face. It is terrible when consecration to God turns us into snobs, and we climb the social ladder to make ourselves look more educated than our own. Everyone should be faithful to the culture they come from, for holiness has to be based on that culture, not on another. You who come from those cultures, do not drain out your soul, please! Be Maya until the end. Jesuit and Maya.

The other day Father Lombardi was telling me that he is working on the cause for beatification of Matteo Ricci, and he spoke about the importance of Ricci’s friendship with Xu Guangqi,[11] the lay Chinese man who accompanied him and remained lay and Chinese, becoming holy as a Chinese person and not as an Italian like Ricci. This is maintaining one’s own culture.

Today, I had lunch with some young people. They came from all over: from Burkina Faso, India, the United States, Australia, Spain. It was beautiful. And there was a Central American girl, indigenous, who chose to wear her traditional makeup. An “enlightened” person seeing her like this might have said ironically: here is a “little Indian,” all painted. Now, when that “little Indian” spoke, she struck a powerful blow against those who do not respect mother earth. That girl spoke from the basis of her culture and with such intellectual ability that afterward, when the people from the press office asked me who could give interviews, I replied: meet whoever you want, but make sure you meet her, for she will say things that no others will say. That girl, an activist, a Catholic, I think a religion teacher, had not lost her culture; she had made it grow. So, this is what I want to say: we have to inculturate ourselves to the fullest.

In 1985, our theology faculty at San Miguel hosted a congress on “Evangelization of culture and inculturation of the Faith.”[12] Those were the Puebla years. There were speeches that some thought were scandalous. I recall I went to Rome for some reason and visited the Congregation for Divine Worship. One of the experts working there, speaking of inculturation, said to me: “We are making progress. We have now allowed the Japanese to reverence the altar with a bow rather than by kissing it. Because for them, kissing it had no significance.” This is the sum of inculturation for an office of the Roman Curia? This is no good. It’s useless. You are the ones who have to carry out the inculturation on the basis of your experience. And you, please, do not change your culture. Remember the rake.

How are you finding this Central American region and what can we do?

You are very “colorful”… in the best sense, I mean. This is a land of colors. I think of Brazilian culture, Afro-Brazilian, as a land of sounds, dances and fiestas. You, however, are a land of colors… That’s how I feel it. A land of colors. This is the first time I have set foot in Panama, and I was speaking about this at lunch with the Nuncio. He helped me find the right word as he thinks the same thing: here there is “nobility.” It is a noble land. Panama is that. This strikes me. You are a concentration of colors, in the richest and most symbolic sense of the word. That’s my perception. And certainly, here it must be harder for a master of novices to discern, especially with inculturation, the colorful expression of a people. But it is beautiful.

An hour into the meeting the organizers of the papal trip advised the Holy Father that it was time to go. The pope said two more short questions. Here is the first: how must we Jesuits approach politics?

Today at lunch the same question was raised by a girl from Nicaragua. The Social Doctrine of the Church is clear and has become more and more explicit over the different pontificates. Evangelii Gaudium is very clear about this point. Moreover, the Gospel too is a political expression as it tends to the polis, to society, to each person and society, to each person in as much as he or she belongs to society. It is true that the word politics is sometimes even discounted and understood as a logic of taking sides, of political sectarianism, with all that this entails in Latin America as far as political corruption is concerned, political assassinations and so on. Political commitment for a religious does not mean campaigning with a political party. Clearly you must use your own vote, but the task is that of being above the factions. But not like those who wash their hands of the matter; rather as one who accompanies the different sides so that they can reach a maturity, bringing in the perspective of Christian doctrine. In Latin America there has not always been political maturity.

I’ll use your question to mention some problems that for me have political relevance. The first is that of the new colonization. Colonization is not only what happened when the Spanish and Portuguese arrived and took possession of the lands. That was physical colonization. Today, ideological and cultural colonizations are in fashion; they are prevailing in the world. In politics you must analyze carefully the colonizations that our people are suffering today.

The second is that of our cruelty. I recently said this to a European politician, who replied: “Father, humanity has always been like this; it’s just that today with the mass media we are more aware of it.” Perhaps she was right. But cruelty is terrible. They even invent the most refined tortures, degrading the human. We are becoming used to cruelty.

The third concerns justice and is about punishment without hope. Yesterday, I was happy after visiting the penitential institute for young people, as I had seen how much they are doing there to rebuild the lives of these persons, boys and girls, degraded by their crimes, to reinsert them. But the culture of justice open to hope is not yet well rooted. 

At the end of the meeting a Jesuit from Nicaragua came up and handed the Holy Father a letter from a young man now in jail, saying: “He was an altar boy from when he was nine years old, and his great desire was to come to World Youth Day.” Then other Jesuits came with presents. The first gift was what is called a “cocobolo” in Panama, an object made from the tropical hardwood of Central America. It represented the Society’s monogram, IHS, and the request was to place it near where he prays in the mornings. The pope, laughing, replied, “And if I pray in the afternoons?” Everybody laughed. The provincial warned that the wood will become darker over time. Then he was given a collage with materials from the different countries of Central America. The pope also received the flag from Magis, an Ignatian initiative that engages young people between ages 18 and 30, volunteers from Panama’s Colegio Javier, for World Youth Day. The pope is asked to sign the flag. Then other personal gifts were offered. The meeting lasted about an hour and 10 minutes before concluding with a photograph and a Hail Mary.


[1] “Our own” is a traditional expression Jesuits use to talk about themselves. The provinces are territories into which Jesuits are grouped around the world. The novices are the religious in their initil formation.

[2] Cf. J. M. Tojeira, “Il martirio di Rutilio Grande,” in Civ. Catt. 2015 II 393-406.

[3] Cf. Pope Francis, The Strength of a Vocation. Consecrated Life Today. Conversation with Fernando Prado, USCCB, 2018.

[4] Regency is the stage of Jesuit formation between philosophy and theology studies. It is dedicated to apostolic work.

[5] The minister in a Jesuit house looks after the practical life of the religious community, overseeing the house.

[6] The body of the Society has three vocations. Professed priests are those who have taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as a special vow of obedience to the pope (the fourth vow). The second group are the spiritual coadjutors, priests who take only the three simple vows. The third group, the brothers, are religious who are not priests and who profess three simple vows. The choice between priesthood and the non-sacerdotal religious life is generally made by the individual when he enters the Society. In some cases, men enter “indifferent,” and the choice is made after discernment during the novitiate.

[7] Z. Bauman – T. Leoncini, Nati liquidi, Milan, Sperling & Kupfer, 2017.

[8] Jesuits take their first vows at the end of their novitiate, and these are considered perpetual for those who make them. Consequently, they are not renewed every three years, as happens in other religious orders. They are, however, “recalled” annually until the final vows are taken as a solemnly professed priest, a spiritual coadjutor priest or a brother, at the end of formation. For the priests, this happens after ordination. However, the first vows can be released simply by the provincial superior.

[9] This is the third stage of the Spiritual Exercises, when the focus is on the mystery of the Passion of the Lord.

[10] This is a meditation from the second week of the Spiritual Exercises, before moving on to the choice of a state of life. Ignatius asks us to meditate on “how Christ calls and wants everyone under his standard, and Lucifer also wants us under his,” even “seeing the place,” that is, imagining the “region of Jerusalem as a great field, where the high captain of the good side is Christ our Lord; meanwhile, in the region of Babylonia where the other side is gathered, the head of the enemies is Lucifer.” The objective is that of “seeking awareness of the tricks of the evil head, and help for defending myself against them; and knowledge of the true life that the Chief and High Captain indicates and the grace to imitate him.”

[11] Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), from Shanghai, knew Matteo Ricci and worked with him closely. He received baptism at the age of 41 and studied Christian doctrine in depth. Cf. A. Jin Luxian, “Xu Guangqi. Il compagno cinese di Matteo Ricci,” in Civ. Catt. I 2016 282-297.

[12] Father Bergoglio gave the opening speech and the final greetings (cf. J. M. Bergoglio, “Fede in Cristo e umanesimo,” in Civ. Catt. 2015 IV 311-316). His considerations underlined the fact that different cultures, the fruit of the wisdom of the peoples, are a reflection of the Wisdom of God. Human wisdom is contemplation that has its origins in the heart and memory of the peoples. It is a privileged place for the mediation between the Gospel and humans, and is the fruit of collective work through history. Hence, in the task of evangelizing cultures and inculturating the Gospel, there is the need, on the one hand, for “sapiential contemplation of cultures” and, on the other, for a “holiness that does not fear conflict and has apostolic persistence and patience,” overcoming with parrhesia all fear and any “centrist extremism.”