“The Sovereignty of the People of God”: The pontiff meets the Jesuits of Mozambique and Madagascar
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Pope Francis

 Pope Francis / Free Articles / Published Date:26 September 2019

On Thursday, September 5, 2019, during his trip to Mozambique, Pope Francis met privately with a group of 24 Jesuits, 20 from Mozambique, three from Zimbabwe and one from Portugal. Among them was the provincial, Fr. Chiedza Chimhanda. The meeting took place in the nunciature at about 6:15 p.m. at the end of a full day of events. The Jesuit Province of Zimbabwe-Mozambique was established at the end of December 2014. It currently has 163 members, 90 of whom are young people in formation.[1] On his arrival, the Jesuits applauded the pope. He asked those present to form a circle with chairs. The conversation lasted a good hour. The provincial gave a word of welcome, then the pope invited the Jesuits to ask questions to start the conversation.

(Antonio Spadaro, SJ)

Fr. Paul Mayeresa, who works in Beira in the educational apostolate, asked for the pope’s thoughts on the apostolic preferences of the Society[2] and for advice on how to live them in Mozambique. The pope replied:

La Civilta Cattolica

It is not easy to rebuild a divided society. You live in a country that has experienced civil strife, with Mozambicans fighting one another. I think, for example, that the apostolic preference regarding the Spiritual Exercises can help a lot in this context. They can be given to people engaged in different sectors of society and thus make them more able to carry out their task of uniting and reconciling. The experience of spiritual discernment can guide action.

It is appropriate to accompany all parties, especially where there is a need for unity and reconciliation in society and in the nation. We know that sometimes the best is the enemy of the good, and at a time of reconciliation bitter pills must be swallowed. In this process you have to teach yourself to be patient. It takes the patience of discernment to reach what is essential and put aside the accidental. It takes a lot of patience sometimes! Of course, it is also necessary to share our wisdom, that is the social doctrine of the Church. But be careful: Jesuits must not divide. There is a need for reconciliation in the society of Mozambique: unite, unite, unite, unite, unite, have patience, wait. Never take a step to divide. We are men of the whole, not of the part.

You work in the educational apostolate, and you are among the young. Your work is important and demanding. Young people have good will, but they can be easy prey to deception as well as impatient. It is necessary to be close to the young people, to give them space so that they can discern what is happening in their hearts. Formation considers ideas and feelings together. To act well you always have to consider your ideas and feelings. For example, we must help the youngest to recognize when they live in resignation, and therefore in stagnation, and also to recognize when they live a healthy restlessness. In short, we need spiritual discernment, of accompaniment for the good of society.

Next came a question from Bendito Ngozzo, chaplain of the Santo Inácio Loyola High School: “Some Protestant sects use the promise of wealth and prosperity to make proselytes. The poor become fascinated and hope to become rich by adhering to these sects that use the name of the Gospel. That’s how they leave the Church. What recommendation can you give us so that our evangelization is not proselytism?”

What you say is very important. To start with, we must distinguish carefully between the different groups who are identified as “Protestants.” There are many with whom we can work very well, and who care about serious, open and positive ecumenism. But there are others who only try to proselytize and use a theological vision of prosperity. You were very specific in your question.

Two important articles in Civiltà Cattolica have been published in this regard. I recommend them to you. They were written by Father Spadaro and the Argentinean Presbyterian pastor, Marcelo Figueroa. The first article spoke of the “ecumenism of hatred.” The second was on the “theology of prosperity.”[3] Reading them you will see that there are sects that cannot really be defined as Christian. They preach Christ, yes, but their message is not Christian. It has nothing to do with the preaching of a Lutheran or any other serious evangelical Christianity. These so-called “evangelicals” preach prosperity. They promise a Gospel that does not know poverty, but simply seeks to make proselytes. This is exactly what Jesus condemns in the Pharisees of his time. I’ve said it many times: proselytism is not Christian.

Today I felt a certain bitterness after a meeting with young people. A woman approached me with a young man and a young woman. I was told they were part of a slightly fundamentalist movement. She said to me in perfect Spanish: “Your Holiness, I am from South Africa. This boy was a Hindu and converted to Catholicism. This girl was Anglican and converted to Catholicism.” But she told me in a triumphant way, as though she was showing off a hunting trophy. I felt uncomfortable and said to her, “Madam, evangelization yes, proselytism no.”

What I mean is that evangelization is free! Proselytism, on the other hand, makes you lose your freedom. Proselytism is incapable of creating a religious path in freedom. It always sees people being subjugated in one way or another. In evangelization the protagonist is God, in proselytism it is the I.

Of course, there are many forms of proselytism. The one practiced by soccer teams, acquiring fans, is all right, obviously! And then it is clear that there are those forms of proselytism for commerce and business, for political parties. Proselytism is widespread, we know that. But it doesn’t have to be the case with us. We must evangelize, which is very different from proselytizing.

St. Francis of Assisi told his friars: “Go out to the world, evangelize. And, if necessary, use words, too.” Evangelization is essentially witness. Proselytizing is convincing, but it is all about membership and takes your freedom away. I believe that this distinction can be of great help. Benedict XVI in Aparecida said something wonderful, that the Church does not grow by proselytism, it grows by attraction, the attraction of witness. The sects, on the other hand, making proselytes, separate people, promising them many advantages and then leaving them to themselves.[4]

Among you there are certainly theologians, sociologists and philosophers: I ask you to study and deepen the difference between proselytism and evangelization. Read well Evangelii Nuntiandi of Paul VI. There it is clear that the vocation of the Church is to evangelize. Indeed, the very identity of the Church involves evangelizing. Unfortunately, however, not only in the sects, but also within the Catholic Church there are fundamentalist groups. They emphasize proselytism more than evangelization.

Another typical thing about proselytizing is that it does not distinguish between the internal and external forums. And this is the sin into which many religious groups fall today. That is why I asked the Apostolic Penitentiary to make a statement on the internal forum, and that statement is really very good.[5]

Evangelizers never violate the conscience: they announce, sow and help to grow. They help. Whoever proselytizes, on the other hand, violates people’s conscience: this does not make them free, it makes them dependent. Evangelization gives you a filial dependence, that is, it makes you free and able to grow. Proselytizing gives you a servile dependence at the level of the conscience and the society. The dependence of the evangelized person, the “filial” dependence, is the memory of the grace that God has given you. The proselyte instead depends not as a child, but as a slave, who in the end does not know what to do unless he or she is told.

Once again I recommend these two articles in Civiltà Cattolica: read them and study them because they address much of what I am telling you. Here I tried to communicate to you the main message.

Fr. Leonardo Alexandria Simao, a scholastic in formation in Beira, speaks next and tells about his work with young people. The pope tells him that it is an important work and that “his ask is to communicate the Gospel and to ensure that young people are internally free.” Then the Jesuit asks him if and how his experience of God has changed since he was elected pope. Francis takes a short time to reflect and then responds…

I can’t tell you, actually. I mean, I guess my experience of God hasn’t fundamentally changed. I remain the same as before. Yes, I feel a sense of greater responsibility, no doubt. My prayer of intercession has become much wider than before. But even beforehand I lived the prayer of intercession and felt pastoral responsibility. I keep walking, but there’s not really been any radical change. I speak to the Lord as before. I feel God gives me the grace I need for the present time. But the Lord gave it to me before. And I commit the same sins as before. My election as pope did not convert me suddenly, so as to make me less sinful than before. I am and I remain a sinner. That’s why I confess every two weeks.

I have never been asked this question before, and I thank you for asking me because it makes me think about my spiritual life. I understand, as I told you, that my relationship with the Lord has not changed, apart from a greater sense of responsibility and a prayer of intercession that has spread to the world and to the whole Church. But the temptations are the same and so are the sins. The mere fact that I now dress all in white has not made me any less sinful or holier than before.

It comforts me a lot to know that Peter, the last time he appears in the Gospels, is still as insecure as he was before. At the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asked him if he loved him more than others and asked him to tend to his sheep, and then confirmed him. But Peter remains the same person he was: stubborn, impetuous. Paul will have to confront and fight with his stubbornness about the Christians who came from paganism and not from Judaism. At the beginning Peter in Antioch lived the freedom that God gave him and sat at table with the pagans and ate with them quietly, putting aside the Jewish food rules. But then some came there from Jerusalem, and Peter, out of fear, withdrew from the table of the pagans and ate only with the circumcised.[6] In short: from freedom he passed again to the slavery of fear. There he is, Peter the hypocrite, the man of compromise! Reading about Peter’s hypocrisy comforts me so much and warns me. Above all, this helps me to understand that there is no magic in being elected pope. The conclave doesn’t work by magic.

Fr. Joachim Biriate, the provincial’s socius, asks a question: “How can we avoid falling into clericalism during formation for priestly ministry?”

Clericalism is a real perversion in the Church. The shepherd has the ability to go in front of the flock to show the way, stay in the middle of the flock to see what happens within, and also be at the rear of the flock to make sure that no one is left behind. Clericalism, on the other hand, demands that the shepherd always stays ahead, sets a course, and punishes with excommunication those who stray from the flock. In short, the very opposite of what Jesus did. Clericalism condemns, separates, beats and despises the people of God.

I once went to confess in a sanctuary in northern Argentina. After Mass, I left in the company of another priest. A woman approached him with pictures and rosaries, asking him to bless those objects. My friend explained to her: “You have been to Mass and at the end of Mass you already received the blessing; therefore, everything has already been blessed.” But the woman kept asking for his blessing. And the priest continued with his theological explanation: “Is Mass the sacrifice of Christ?” And the woman said “Yes!” “Is itthe sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ?” And the woman said “Yes!” “And you believe that Christ with his blood saved us all?” And the woman said “Yes!” At that very moment the priest saw a friend of his and was distracted. And the woman immediately turned to me, asking, “Father, will you give me the blessing?” The poor people should not have to beg in this wayf or a blessing! Clericalism does not take into account the people of God.

In Latin America there is much popular piety, and it is very rich. One of the explanations given for the phenomenon is that this happened because the priests were not interested, and therefore could not clericalize it. Popular piety has aspects needing correction, yes, but it expresses the sovereignty of the holy people of God, without clericalism. Clericalism confuses priestly “service” with priestly “power.” Clericalism is rise and rule. It’s called “climbing” in Italian.

The ministry understood not as service but as “promotion” to the altar is the fruit of a clerical mentality. I can think of an extreme example. Deacon means “servant.” But in some cases clericalism paradoxically affects precisely the “servants,” the deacons. When they forget that they are the custodians of service, then the desire to clericalize and be “promoted” to the altar emerges.

Clericalism has a direct consequence in rigidity. Have you never seen young priests all stiff in black cassocks and hats in the shape of the planet Saturn on their heads? Behind all the rigid clericalism there are serious problems. I had to intervene recently in three dioceses with problems that expressed themselves in these forms of rigidity that concealed moral problems and imbalances.

One dimension of clericalism is the exclusive moral fixation on the sixth commandment. Once a Jesuit, a great Jesuit, told me to be careful in giving absolution, because the most serious sins are those that are more angelical: pride, arrogance, dominion… And the least serious are those that are less angelical, such as greed and lust. We focus on sex and then we do not give weight to social injustice, slander, gossip and lies. The Church today needs a profound conversion in this area.

On the other hand, great shepherds give people a lot of freedom. The good shepherd knows how to lead his flock without enslaving it to rules that deaden people. Clericalism, on the other hand, leads to hypocrisy, even in religious life.

I often tell the story of a Jesuit in formation. His mother was seriously ill and he knew that she would not live much longer. He lived in another city in the same country, and so he asked his provincial to be moved closer to his mother so as to be able to spend more time with her. The provincial said that he would think about it before God and would answer him before leaving early in the morning the next day. The young Jesuit stayed in the chapel that night for a long time, praying that the Lord would grant him grace. But the provincial, since he had to leave early, did not really think much about it and wrote all the answers to the petitions he had received and gave them to the minister of the community[7] to hand them over the following day. Among them was the answer to this young man. The minister, since it was late and he thought that everyone was sleeping, put the letters at the doors of those concerned. The young man, who returned to his room from the chapel late at night, saw the letter from the provincial and opened it. He realized it was dated the next day. It said, “After reflecting, praying, celebrating Mass and making long discernment before the Lord, I think you should stay in this place.” This is clericalism, it is the hypocrisy to which clericalism leads. The young Jesuit did not lose his vocation, but he never forgot that hypocrisy. Clericalism is essentially hypocritical.

Fr. Afonso Mucane, parish priest of the parish of Sant’Ignazio, in the diocese of Tete, asked for some thoughts on the Apostolate of Prayer, which is now called the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and has just celebrated its 175th anniversary.[8]

I think we should teach people the prayer of intercession, which is a prayer of courage, of parrhesia. Think of Abraham’s intercession over Sodom and Gomorrah. Think of Moses’ intercession for his people. We must help the people to exercise intercession more often. And we ourselves need to pray more. The Pope’s Worldwide Network of Prayer, directed by Fr. Fornos, is doing this very well. It is important that people pray for the pope and his intentions. The pope is tempted, he is very besieged: only the prayer of his people can free him, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. When Peter was imprisoned, the Church prayed incessantly for him. If the Church prays for the pope, this is a grace. I really do feel the need to beg for in prayer all the time. The prayer of the people is sustaining.

The last question is from a scholastic, Ermano Lucas, who works at the secondary school “Sant’Ignazio.” His question is about rampant xenophobia.

Xenophobia and aporophobia[9] today are part of a populist mentality that leaves no sovereignty to the people. Xenophobia destroys the unity of a people, even that of the people of God. And the people are all of us: those who were born in the same country, no matter whether they have their roots in another place or are of different ethnic groups. Today we are tempted by a form of sterilized sociology, where you consider a country as if it were an operating theater, where everything is sterilized: my race, my family, my culture… as if there were the fear of dirtying it, staining it, infecting it. There are those who want to stop this very important process of mingling cultures, which gives life to people. Mixing makes you grow, it gives you new life. It develops racial mixing, change and gives originality. The mixing of identities is what we have experienced, for example, in Latin America. There we have everything: Spanish and Indian, the missionary and the conqueror, the Spanish lineage, people’s mixed heritage.[10]

Building walls means condemning yourself to death. We can’t live asphyxiated by a culture as clean and pure as an operating theater, aseptic and not microbial.

The meeting between Pope Francis and the Jesuits ended with thanksgiving, a shared prayer and a group photo.

* * *

On September 8, during his visit to Madagascar, at the end of the meeting with priests, religious and seminarians on the sports field of the Jesuits’ Saint-Michel College,[11] Pope Francis met 200 of the 260 Jesuits of the Malagasy province, led by the provincial, Fr. Fulgence Ratsimbazafy. The meeting took place in the College Chapel and lasted about 40 minutes.[12]

The pope’s entrance was accompanied by the singing of the “Veni Creator” in a cordial and appropriately solemn atmosphere, a solemnity that the pope immediately wanted to dampen, saying that he would not make speeches and that he did not want to listen to them. Instead, he asked that those gathered “speak like brothers,” and to have a completely spontaneous interview with questions and answers. The meeting alternated between a series of rapid responses[13] and three broader responses.

Fr. Joseph Emmanuel Randriamamonjy, who works in the apostolate of the Spiritual Exercises, takes the microphone and asks a question in Italian: “What is your impression of Madagascar? What struck you most?”

One thing that struck me very much and that seems to me to be the real focus of the visit was the people, the Madagascan people. I have seen a people capable of withstanding poverty, suffering, and exploitation. I was struck by their ability to express joy, even when lacking the necessities of life. This is a real grace. It also says a great deal to us consecrated persons and calls into question our needs, which are refined and sometimes the typical needs of the elite. I have seen a people that seeks what is essential to survive, and precisely for this reason it is fruitful. Do not lose sight of the roots that make your people joyful even in suffering! When you are tempted to become a little acidic and dissatisfied, concentrate well on the spirit of your people and its fruitfulness.

Fr. Noel Cyprien, coordinator of the social and ecological apostolate of the province, spoke: “You are from Latin America. Today you’re in Madagascar. Do you see any relationship between our different peoples?”

I would say that our peoples must be careful not to fall into an ideological colonization that takes away our identity. Our peoples still have the ability to express themselves in a popular way without falling into populism. It is important to preserve the identity of one’s own people, an identity that comes from the spontaneous expression of the people. But we must defend ourselves against an identity that is ideological. The experience of the people goes far beyond ideologies, which are abstract and fit for a museum or laboratory. Ideology makes us lose our identity. The identity of a people cannot be expressed in concepts, but in stories. The people are sovereign in their expressions of art, culture and wisdom. St. Ignatius understood that well. If you recall, in our Constitutions there is a kind of refrain that takes up the choices and the way of acting that always depends on context, on the reality “according to places, times and people.”

The criterion of action is never abstract, but has as its reference a certain place, a given time, precise people. The inner vision does not impose itself on history, trying to organize it, but dialogues with reality, fits into history, and takes place over time. This ensures that discernment guides action, always respecting the variety of cultures and peoples, and the interiority of individuals.

It is for this reason that the Society of Jesus has been able to have figures such as Saint Francis Xavier, Matteo Ricci, De Nobili and Valignano. Our missions in South America have been creative with the people, and have not reduced them to a theoretical scheme. The rule of action in missions has always taken into account the concreteness of places, times and people. The rule is this discernment.

Fr. Joseph Rabenirina, director of the publishing house Ambozonyany, asks: “I heard from my parents and grandparents that the French missionaries used to give as penance for sins that of planting trees. What do you think?”

That sounds like a very creative pastoral initiative to me. From what you tell me it was a social and environmental penance, which is attentive to building up society. Today, when I went to the “City of Friendship,” Fr. Pedro showed me some pine trees. He told me he planted them himself 20 years ago. This is really very nice.

At the end of the meeting various gifts were given to the pope. Among these was a book on Antonio da Padova Rahajarizafy, who was the first Malagasy Provincial. Francis had mentioned him during his speech at the Presidential Palace while speaking of the “Fihavanana” culture. The pope then wrote a dedication to a book for the Golden Jubilee of the Malagasy province, which will be celebrated in 2021. Francis then placed his signature in the Malagasy translation of the encyclical Laudato Si’. He spoke and joked with some of those present and a group photo was taken. In an atmosphere of great joy and some confusion, Francis went out while those present sang Taizé’s canon Ubi Caritas.


DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 3, no. 9, art. 10, 2019: 10.32009/22072446.1909.10

[1]. In Mozambique the Jesuits work in six parishes, one in the Archdiocese of Maputo, one in the Archdiocese of Beira and four in the Diocese of Tete. In Zimbabwe they run nine parishes. The main activity of the province is linked to the educational apostolate, where the Jesuits work in 18 primary and secondary schools. These are mostly schools that the Society manages on behalf of their respective bishops and in collaboration with governments. The province has five of these schools. There is also a social center, two spirituality centers and two projects for the care of orphans and a project for the rehabilitation of street children.

[2]. An extensive process of listening and discernment has enabled the Society of Jesus to present four universal apostolic preferences to the Holy Father, which are as follows: 1) Showing the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment. 2) Walking with the poor, the outcasts of the world, whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice. 3) Accompanying young people in the creation of a hope-filled future. 4) Collaborating in the care for our “common home.”

[3].    A. Spadaro – M. Figueroa, “Evangelical fundamentalism and Catholic fundamentalism. A surprising ecumenism” in Civ. Catt. 2017, https://www.laciviltacattolica.com/evangelical-fundamentalism-and-catholic-integralism-in-the-usa-a-surprising-ecumenism ; “The Prosperity Gospel: Dangerous and Different” https://www.laciviltacattolica.com/the-prosperity-gospel-dangerous-and-different.

[4]. Cf. Benedict XVI, Homily during the Holy Mass for the Inauguration of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (May 13, 2007): “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by attraction: just as Christ draws all to himself by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfills her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.”

[5]. “Note of the Apostolic Penitentiary on the importance of the internal forum and the inviolability of the sacramental seal” July 1, 2019.

[6]. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Gal 2:11-14).

[7]. The “minister” of the community is the deputy superior.

[8]. Cf. F. Fornos, “La Rete mondiale di preghiera del Papa” in Civ. Catt. 2019 II 479-484.

[9]. Xenophobia is a general aversion to foreigners, what is foreign, or what is perceived as foreign. Aporophobia is a phobia that represents fear for poverty or for the poor, and can also be interpreted as repugnance before the poor or the defenseless.

[10]. Cf. Aparecida Document, n. 43: “Accordingly, social reality, which in its contemporary thrust we describe with the word ‘globalization,’ impacts more than any other dimension our culture and the way in which we become part of it and draw from it. The variety and wealth of Latin American cultures, ranging from those that are more indigenous to those that with the movement of history and racial mixing of its peoples, have gradually been settling in nations, families, social groups, educational institutions, and shared civic life, constitute a fact that is quite obvious to us and one that we value as a singular treasure.” Cf. also Puebla Document, nos. 307, 409.

[11] Established in 1888 by French missionary Jesuits, it was called Saint-Michel, in honor of Fr. Michel Lanusse, who had the idea of the school. Today it is famous for its high quality education given to 3,700 students.

[12]. The Society of Jesus is present in 11 of the 22 dioceses of the Church in Madagascar and carries out various pastoral activities related to basic and university education, training for both young people and for clergy and religious, the apostolate of the Spiritual Exercises, the social apostolate, the apostolate of the first evangelization and the parish apostolate. The province was founded in 1971.

[13]. Fr. Hilariaon Rakotoarison asked which of the four apostolic preferences presented by the Society was the priority for the pope. He replied with a smile: “The first, the second, the third and the fourth! All of them.” Vincent Anastase Rakotovao asked him about the choice of the name “Francis.” The pope said: “It occurred to me when in Conclave at the final moment of the vote Cardinal Hummes asked me not to forget the poor.” To Brother Bernardin Ramarolahy, who asked him how he had experienced the climate of those days, he replied: “I was a little cold yesterday, but today I covered myself more with a jersey.” To the novice Hasiniaina Iombonana Josephat, who asked him what he remembers of his novitiate, he said: “It was a classic novitiate as it was once: everything was set. You’ve to thank Pedro Arrupe who put his mark on formation!”