Pope Francis waves as he leaves Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, a landmark church dedicated to the Madonna. He prayed before a famous icon of the Madonna called the Salus Populi Romani, or Protectress of the Roman People. (Reuters)
March 14: Pope Francis has served the Vatican a reminder on the Jesuit way of life on his first full papal day itself.
The first Jesuit to become Pope picked up his luggage and paid his hotel bill, though he is now in charge of the lodge. The first Pope to take the name of St Francis of Assisi, who preached the virtue of living in poverty, wanted to set an example for an institution long associated with great wealth.
He declined a throne-like chair while the cardinals pledged their obedience.
Less than an hour later, he shunned the papal limousine and boarded a bus.
He did not start by using the customary “Praised be Jesus Christ” or “Dear brothers and sisters”, but employed a much more familiar and inviting “Buona Sera” — good evening in Italian — to address drenched crowds in a rain-swept St Peter’s Square.
While his predecessor Pope Benedict almost never made unprepared remarks, Pope Francis delivered the homily in his first public Mass in Italian (not in Latin as his predecessor had done), without notes and with a contemporary ring. He warned the Catholic Church that it would become “a compassionate NGO” if it forgot its true mission.
He also displayed a sense of self-deprecating humour. Pope Francis, who charmed the crowd last night by saying “it seems as if my brother cardinals went to find (the Pope) from the end of the earth”, took the mood to the dinner table. He told the cardinals: “May God forgive you for what you have done.”
None of which should surprise the countless products of Jesuit schools in India, which has the largest number of Jesuits in the world. Of the over 20,000 Jesuits under the Society of Jesus, 5,000 are from India.
The refreshing style that Pope Francis brought to the Vatican has been in the making since he took the perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience that make Jesuits an integral part of the Society.
“From this time onwards, he (a Jesuit) cannot own anything. He cannot say something is mine. You cannot have bank accounts, cannot receive salaries; you cannot buy anything on your own; you cannot keep money. So, you are dependent on the Society for everything. It is a public ceremony. I took mine (vows) in the chapel. Normally it is taken in a church in the presence of the public,” said Father Felix Raj, a Jesuit priest and the principal of St Xavier’s College, Calcutta.
Father Felix Raj retraced the tumultuous, fascinating — and ironical — history of the Jesuit order against the backdrop of the election of Pope Francis.
The land that played a major part in the suppression of the order of the Society of Jesus for 40 years has given the world its first Jesuit Pope, 240 years on.
The order, started 500 years ago by St Ignatius of Loyola, was suppressed in 1773 by the decree of Pope Clement XIV in almost all the Christian countries and their colonies to punish the Jesuits, as the members of the Society of Jesus are called, for siding with the natives of Latin America against the colonisers, who treated the natives poorly and wanted to use them as slave labour.
“Many of the Jesuits were arrested while others were asked to leave, except in Russia where the queen, Catherine the Great, refused to accept the order. Five hundred Jesuits remained there and continued with their work and there was one Jesuit priest here in Calcutta who ceased to be a Jesuit but was allowed to continue his work,” said Father Felix Raj. The bishops took over the schools, colleges and centres that the Jesuits were running.
Centuries later, charges of cosying up to or failing to openly confront Argentine dictators would come to haunt Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (pronounced ber-GOAL-io), who became Pope Francis yesterday. But the new Pope’s authorised biographer contends that this was a failure of the Roman Catholic Church in general, and that it’s unfair to stamp Bergoglio with the collective guilt.
In 1813, forty years after it was suppressed, the Jesuit order was restored by Pope Pius VII. “It is almost like the Society had a death and a resurrection like Christ,” added Father Felix Raj. “In the context of the suppression and in the context of the problems the Jesuits faced, a South American Pope is a real recognition. It is a total transformation.”
Jesuits, mainly English and Belgian, came to Bengal about 200 years ago and went to the remotest of villages to build schools and dispensaries and live with the people. St Francis Xavier was the first Jesuit to come to India in 1542 and stayed in the country for 10 years.
The Jesuits run 26 universities in the US and 46 university colleges and 175 high schools in India. The Jesuit education network is the largest in the world.
Father Felix Raj said he was “happy that a Jesuit has become a Pope”. But he added: “We Jesuits have a spirit of not becoming bishops, cardinals and Pope. To become bishops, to become cardinals is to live with glory; because when you become a bishop or a cardinal, you are called the ‘prince’ of the Church. But if the Church wants, if people want, if the Pope appoints a Jesuit as a bishop, we must be ready.”
Since the Jesuits take a vow of obedience to the Pope, some theologians have raised a question. “Who will the Pope obey now? How will this obedience work?” asked Nicolas Steeves, a Jesuit doing doctoral studies in Paris. But others said Francis would take his guidance from their order’s long tradition of spirituality that stresses practical solutions to problems in the world.
The military background of Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish knight who was wounded in battle and experienced a religious conversion, has prompted some to refer to the members of the order as “God’s Marines”.
But the regimen involves deep immersion in scholarship and spirituality and long years of hard work.
A member normally takes 14 to 16 years to become a full-fledged Jesuit priest. If someone joins the Jesuit order after his graduation, he may take 10 to 12 years. The gruelling training involves getting used to the hard life and one-month retreat during which complete silence has to be observed.
“During this formation, the Jesuit is constantly evaluated and given feedback about his strengths and weaknesses and his superiors suggest improvement. Because a Jesuit is taught to always follow the principle of Ignatius’ charisma which is magis, which means ‘the more’,” said Father Felix Raj.