Stir Up the Indifferent: A conversation with Jesuits in Romania

Pope Francis

 Pope Francis / Church Life / Published Date:13 June 2019/Last Updated Date:27 December 2019

From May 31 to June 2, 2019, Francis made an apostolic journey to Romania. At the end of the first day, when he returned to the nunciature, the pope was welcomed by 22 Jesuits working in the country. He stayed with them for about an hour, answering some questions in a relaxed and family atmosphere. The pope arrived around 8 p.m. There were sandwiches and drinks for everyone. The group was introduced by Fr. Gianfranco Matarazzo, Provincial of the Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Jesuits, which includes Italy, Malta, Romania and Albania. The priorities of the apostolic work in the province and an academic and cultural networking project for the four territories were presented to the pope.[1] In Romania, the Jesuits devote themselves to the Exercises and spiritual direction, working with young people and in the parish apostolate. There are also social apostolates linked to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and an association for the Roma.

Also present at the meeting were Fr. Joaquín Barrero, the Father General’s Assistant for Southern Europe; Fr. Michael Bugeja, the Delegate for Romania; and Fr. Henryk Urban, the Superior. The delegate addressed a few words of greeting.

(Antonio Spadaro, SJ)

La Civilta Cattolica

 The pope, starting the conversation, said:

Ask any questions… Let’s get to it!

Fr. Marius Talos asked: “In addition to appreciation, we Jesuits sometimes receive a lot of criticism. How should we behave in difficult times? How can we serve everyone in turbulent times?”

What to do? It takes patience, it takes hupomeno, that is, carrying the weight of the events and circumstances of life. You have to carry the burden of life and its tensions on your shoulders. We know that we must proceed with parrhesia and courage. They’re important. However, there are times when you can’t go too far and then you have to be patient and sweet. This is what Peter Faber did, the man of dialogue, of listening, of closeness, of the journey.[2]

Today is a time more for Faber than for Canisius,[3] who was the man of the dispute. In times of criticism and tension we must do as Faber did, working with the help of the angels: he begged his angel to speak to the angels of others so that they might do with them what we cannot do. And then you really need proximity, a meek proximity. We must first of all be close to the Lord with prayer, with time spent in front of the tabernacle. And then the closeness to the people of God in daily life with works of charity to heal the wounds.

I think of the Church as a field hospital. The Church is so wounded, and today it is also so wounded by tensions within it. Meekness, it takes meekness! And it takes a lot of courage to be meek! But you have to go forward with meekness. This is not the time to convince, to have discussions. If someone has a sincere doubt, yes, one can dialogue, clarify. But don’t respond to the attacks.

A long time ago in Argentina I published a booklet where I presented the letters of Father General Ricci at the time of the persecution and suffering of the Society.[4] It’s called The Letters of Tribulation. The Jesuits of La Civiltà Cattolica began to study them, considering also the letters I wrote to the Chilean and American episcopates. They published the volume with studies and comments.[5] They did a really good job. If you read that book, you will see that it says what should be done in moments of tribulation in the light of the Society’s tradition.

What did Jesus do in the moment of tribulation and fury? He didn’t argue with the Pharisees and the Sadducees as he had done before when they tried to set traps. Jesus remained silent. There’s no talking at the moment of fierce fury. When persecution is taking place, what remains to be lived is witness and loving closeness, in prayer, in charity and in goodness. You embrace the cross.

The provincial asks: “Tell us about the consolations that are accompanying you.”

I like that language! You’re not asking me what we can do here or there. You ask me about consolations and desolations. The previous one was a question about desolation, this is a question about consolation. The examination of consciousness must account for these movements of the soul. What are the real consolations? Those in which the passage of the Lord is made present.

Where can I find the greatest consolation?

In prayer the Lord makes himself heard. And then I find them with God’s people. Especially with the sick and the old, who are a treasure. Go and visit the elderly! And then with the young people who are restless and looking for real witnesses. God’s people understand things better than we do. God’s people have an understanding, the sensus fidei, that corrects your line and puts you on the right path. You should hear what people say to me when I meet them! They have a nose for understanding situations.

I’ll tell you a story. I like to spend time with children and the elderly. Once, there was an old lady. She had precious, bright eyes. I asked her, “How old are you?” “Eighty-seven,” she answered. “But what do you eat to be so well? Give me the recipe,” I said. “Everything!” she answered. “And I make my own ravioli.” I said to her, “Madam, pray for me!” She says to me, “Every day I pray for you!” And joking, I add, “Tell me the truth: Do you pray for me or against me?” “Of course, I pray for you! Many others inside the Church pray against you!”

True resistance is not in the people of God, who really feel they are the people. I wrote that in Evangelii Gaudium. See, I find consolation in the people of God. And God’s people are also a real litmus test: If you are really with God’s people, you can see if things are going well or not.

Another anecdote. I had made a vow to Nuestra Señora del Milagro for vocations to the Society. I went to the sanctuary in northern Argentina every year. There are always a lot of people there. One day after Mass, while I was leaving with another priest, a simple woman of the people approached. She was not a member of the “cultured elite.” She had holy cards and crucifixes with her.

She asked the other priest, “Father, bless me?” And he – a good theologian – replied: “But you were in the Mass?” And she says, “Yes, Father.” And then he asks, “Do you know that the final blessing blesses everything?” And the lady said, “Yes, Father.” And then the father asks: “And do you know that the sacrifice of Christ is renewed in the Mass?” And she said, “Yes, Father.” And he said, “Do you know that whoever comes out of Mass comes out all blessed?” And she said, “Yes, Father.” At that moment another priest was coming out, and my companion turned around to greet him.

At that moment, the lady looked to me and said, “Father, will you bless me?” There. You see? The lady accepted all the theology, of course, but she wanted that blessing! The wisdom of God’s people! The concrete! You may say, but it could be superstition. Yes, sometimes someone can be superstitious. But what matters is that God’s people are concrete. In the people of God we find the concreteness of life, of the true questions, of the apostolate, of the things we must do. The people love and hate and know how to love and hate. It’s concrete.

A Hungarian Jesuit, Fr. Mihály Orbán, asks: “In this region we have a parish with Germans, Romanian Hungarians and Greek Catholics. I want to talk to you about a problem that concerns the family: the nullity of marriages. It’s difficult to handle nullity processes. You never get to the end. I know you told the Italian bishops about this, but what can be done? It seems to me that a lot of people are unable to make it to the end of the process. The tribunals don’t work.

Yes. Pope Benedict also talked about this. Three times, as I recall. There are marriages that are null for lack of faith. Then maybe the marriage is not null, but it does not develop well because of psychological immaturity. In some cases, the marriage is valid, but sometimes it is better that the two separate for the sake of the children. We’re always at risk of falling into casuistry.

When the synod on the family began, some said: “See, the pope summons a synod to give communion to the divorced.” And they’re still saying so today! In reality, the synod took a step on the path in matrimonial morals, passing from the casuistry of decadent scholasticism to the true morals of St. Thomas Aquinas. That point at which Amoris Laetitia speaks of the integration of divorcees, eventually opening up to the possibility of the sacraments, was developed according to the most classical morals of St. Thomas, the most orthodox, not the decadent casuistry of “one can or one cannot.”

But we have to get away from the casuistry that deceives us in matrimonial matters. It would be easier sometimes to say “you can or you can’t” or even “go on, no problem.” No. The couples must be accompanied. There are very good experiences. This is very important. But diocesan tribunals are needed, and I’ve asked for a brief process. I know some things don’t work. And there are too few diocesan tribunals. Lord, help us!

Fr. Vasile Tofane asks a question: “The Greek Catholic Church has played a very important role in our country. Some, however, say that this Church has fulfilled its historical role and that the faithful should choose to enter the Latin or Orthodox Church. But tomorrow you will beatify seven martyred bishops. This makes me understand that this Church has a future. What do you think?

My position is that of Saint John Paul II. The Church breathes with two lungs. And the eastern lung can be Orthodox or Catholic. The status quo must be maintained. There is a whole culture and a pastoral life that must be preserved. But uniatism is no longer the way today. In fact, I’d say it’s not licit today. Today, however, the situation must be respected and the Greek Catholic bishops helped to work with the faithful.

Fr. Lucian Budau spoke: “I am a parish priest in Satu Mare in the north of the country. We have the parish in the city and then there are two villages almost in the woods. What hurts me the most is indifference.

One of the great temptations of today is indifference. We live the temptation of indifference, which is the most modern form of paganism. In indifference everything is centered on the “I.” There is no ability to take a position on what is happening. One of the photographers of L’Osservatore Romano, an artist, has taken a photo titled “Indifference.”

In the picture you can see a well-dressed lady, with a fur coat and a beautiful hat, coming out on a winter night from a luxury restaurant. And then next to her is a lady on the ground begging for alms. But the well-dressed lady looks the other way. This photograph has made me think so much. It’s what we in Spanish call the calma chicha. It’s the quiet and flat sea, like the doldrums.

Saint Ignatius tells us that if there is indifference and there is no consolation or desolation, it is not good. If nothing moves, you have to look at what is happening. And it would be good for us, too, to open our eyes to reality and look at what’s going on. Thank you for your question: it means that you are not one who is indifferent!

Let us return to the Spiritual Exercises and try to understand why we live an inner indifference without consolations or desolations. Why is there indifference in that parish or in that social situation? How can I help stir people out of indifference? Indifference is a form of the culture of spiritual worldliness. Be careful not to confuse it with what for Saint Ignatius is a good indifference. Good indifference is what we need to have in front of life choices and that allows us not to be distracted by “strong passions,” which are just fleeting moments that confuse us. There are different indifferences: the good one and the bad one.

I am concerned about the culture of bad indifference where everything is calm and flat, where you don’t react to history, when you don’t laugh and you don’t cry. A community that cannot laugh and cannot cry has no horizons. It’s locked in the walls of indifference.

The provincial, given the time, intervened saying that perhaps the meeting can be closed, but Francis asked that another question be asked of him. Fr. Florin Silaghi spoke: “I don’t know if it’s a question: I feel that we are a Church that has a very colorful dress. We Jesuits are a reflection of this Church. What do you think of this diversity? How to handle it?”

That a Jesuit is different from another is a grace. It means the Society doesn’t cancel personalities. Then the question is: how do we manage this diversity in the community? We must have unity of hearts, of spirit. The important thing is community dialogue and fraternal discussion, which is prepared by prayer. Let’s thank God we’re different! Yes, sometimes diversity is ideological, and this must be combated. When it is the result of closed ideological positions, diversity is of no use. Good diversity is what the Lord has given us and what makes us grow. But difficulties must never impede us. We always have to go forward. Then we’ll find peace there…

That’s how the meeting ended. The superior of Romania greeted Francis and offered him an icon. Fr. Marius Talos, on behalf of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), gave him a painting titled “Hands of Hope” by Elena Andrei, who has supported various workshops with refugee and migrant women. It represents the hands of the pope in prayer, surrounded by the hands of refugees. The pope then invited everyone to pray the Hail Mary. A group photo was taken before we parted.

[1] The four priorities are Ignatian formation, transmission of faith to the new generations, building of apostolic communities, integral ecology in listening to the poor.

[2] Peter Faber (Villaret 1506 – Rome 1547) was canonized by Francis. He was in the group of students of theology who gave rise to the Society of Jesus. When he arrived in Paris for his studies, he found himself sharing a room with Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. He was sent to restore peace in places of conflict, first in Italy, where the population of Parma was in revolt against the excesses of a cardinal who governed it. Then in Germany and the Netherlands, to seek mediation with the nascent Protestant Reformation. Finally, in Spain, where the rapid development of the Society of Jesus was not achieved without tensions and misunderstandings. Many of those who came into contact with him developed deep conversions and some of them, such as Peter Canisius and Francis Borgia, in turn became Jesuits. Cf. A. Spadaro (ed.), Pietro Favre. Servitore della consolazione, Milan, Ancora, 2013.

[3] Peter Canisius (Kanis) is the first Dutch Jesuit. He was born on May 8, 1521, in Nijmegen (Holland) and died on December 21, 1597, in Freiburg (Switzerland). He joined the Society in 1543 after having done the Spiritual Exercises under the direction of Peter Faber, and took part in the Council of Trent in 1547 and 1562. Canisius’ importance is based on the harmonious combination, not so common in his time, of his dogmatic firmness of principles together with an attitude of respect. In 1925 he was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church.

[4] Lorenzo Ricci was elected General of the Society of Jesus in May 1758. He had to face the immediate expulsion of the Jesuits from Portugal and then from France, Spain and Naples and then from the Duchy of Parma. The political pressures became incessant until Pope Clement suppressed the Order in July 1773. Ricci was imprisoned at Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. He died there on November 24, 1775.

[5] Pope Francis, Lettere della tribolazione, Milan, Ancora, 2019. The volume contains the letters of the generals of the Society, the text of the then Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and a critical apparatus previously published in several stages in La Civiltà Cattolica, signed by Frs. Diego Fares, James Hanvey and Antonio Spadaro.