October 24, 2016 — Today, Pope Francis visited the Jesuits’ General Congregation 36 and addressed the delegates at the Jesuit Curia in Rome, telling them that the church needs them. “As my predecessors have often told you, the church needs you, counts on you and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach, or find it difficult to reach.”
It has long been a tradition for the pope to meet with the newly elected superior general and delegates at a Jesuit General Congregation, though it often happens at the Vatican. Instead, Pope Francis visited the Curia, where he was greeted by Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ, and the superior of the Curia community, Father Joaquín Barrero, SJ.
Frs. Sosa and Barrero accompanied Pope Francis into the Aula, where the pope participated in morning prayer with the delegates. The prayer’s theme, the good shepherd, was chosen for the occasion. The Ignatian reflection made a reference to Fr. Franz van de Lugt, SJ, who was a pastor in Homs, Syria, until he was murdered in 2014 during the war. The members of the congregation prayed for Pope Francis, as he often requests of all those he meets.
Pope Francis gave the congregation an encouraging speech that was characterized by an openness to what lies ahead, a call to go further and journey with others. “We neither walk alone nor comfortably, but we walk with a heart that does not rest, that does not close in on itself but beats to the rhythm of a journey undertaken together with all the people faithful to God. We walk becoming all things to all people, with the goal of helping others.”
Quoting Saint Ignatius, the pope recalled that a Jesuit is called to converse and thereby to bring life “in every part of the world where a greater service to God and help for souls is expected.” For this reason, the Jesuits must go forward, taking advantage of the situations in which they find themselves, always to serve more and better. This implies a way of doing things that aims for harmony in the contexts of tension that are normal in a world with diverse people and missions. The pope mentioned explicitly the tensions between contemplation and action, between faith and justice, between charism and institution, and between community and mission.
The Holy Father detailed three areas of the Society’s path; the first was to “ask insistently for consolation.” The Society must know how to console, to bring consolation and real joy, and the Jesuits must put themselves at the service of joy, for the Good News cannot be announced in sadness.
Next, Francis invited Jesuits to “allow ourselves to be moved by the Lord on the cross.” The Society must get close to men and women who suffer, and, they must offer services of mercy in various forms. We who have been touched by mercy must feel ourselves sent to present this same mercy in an effective way, he said.
Finally, Pope Francis asked the Society to go forward under the influence of the “good spirit.” This implies always discerning — which is more than simply reflecting — how to act in communion with the church. The Jesuits must not be “clerical” but “ecclesial.” They are “men for others” who live in the midst of all people, trying to touch the heart of each person, contributing in this way to establishing a church in which all have their place, in which the Gospel is inculturated, and in which each culture is evangelized.
The three last words of the pope’s speech were graces for which each Jesuit and the whole Society must always ask: consolation, compassion and discernment.