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BY EDWARD PENTINRegister Correspondent
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has called on members of the
Church’s largest religious order, the Society of Jesus, to be faithful to the
legacy of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and to their apostolate as
teachers and missionaries in dialogue with the modern world.
Speaking after a Mass in St.
Peter’s Basilica April 22 that marked five centuries since the births of the
Society’s St. Francis Xavier and Blessed Peter Faber, and 450 years since the
death of St. Ignatius, the Holy Father reminded the Jesuits of their vow of
loyalty to the pope and encouraged them in their dialogue with modern culture
through teaching, research, theology and philosophy.
“[St. Ignatius] left his followers
a precious spiritual legacy that must not be lost or forgotten,” the Pope said,
adding that St. Ignatius was “a faithful servant of the Church” whose desire to
serve the Church effectively resulted in the “vow of special obedience to the
Pope, whom he classified as ‘our first and principal foundation.’”
Benedict praised the “cultural
commitment” of Jesuits and said dialogue with modern culture possesses
“wonderful progress in the scientific field.” But, he warned, contemporary
culture is also “strongly marked by the positivist and materialist scientific
To respond to this culture with
the values of the Gospel, the order must have “an intense spiritual and
cultural formation,” the Pope said. He reminded those in attendance, including
the Jesuits’ superior general, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach,
that this was why St. Ignatius wanted young Jesuits to be formed for many years
in the spiritual life and in their academic studies.
“It is good that this tradition be
maintained and reinforced, given the growing complexities and vastness of
modern culture,” the Holy Father said.
Benedict also urged the order to
continue the key tasks of Christian education and the cultural formation of
youth — also central objectives of St. Ignatius –– and to do so “without
altering the spirit of your founder.”
Referring to the three men being
commemorated, Pope Benedict drew attention to their “extraordinary holiness and
exceptional apostolic zeal.”
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state who celebrated the
commemoration Mass, offered his own thanks for the work of the Society of
Jesus, but also called on those present to seek forgiveness for the times they
have not lived up to their calling.
Said Cardinal Sodano,
“Today, we want to ask forgiveness for our infidelities.”
The words of encouragement from
Benedict, who for many years has worked closely with members of the order, were
“It was clear to me, as I saw him
deliver his address, that he knows the Society and has much affection for its
members,” said Jesuit Father Robert Araujo, a law
professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University
in Rome, “an affection strengthened by our fourth vow to him.”
The Jesuits’ fourth vow — along
with their vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience — is loyalty to the pope.
Benedict’s address came at a time
when the Jesuits are coping with many contemporary challenges. In the developing
world, the order is taking a lead role in dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic
and with increasing numbers of migrants and refugees. In the West, it is
struggling to come up with evangelizing techniques through which to engage
Meanwhile, the positivist and
materialist scientific spirit highlighted by Benedict has taken its toll on the
Jesuits themselves. In 1965, there were 3,559 Jesuits in formation in the United States;
by 2002, that number had dropped to just 389.
Another problem confronting the
order is the widespread criticism that many Jesuit priests are dissenters.
Although few Jesuits will openly agree with that assessment, many acknowledge
that the society has lost much of its reputation as a trustworthy source of
sound teaching and solid doctrine.
However, Father Kolvenbach, in recent comments to the Register, denied that
dissent was on the increase.
“In the spirit of serving the
Church and the faithful, some Jesuits are tackling difficult issues in
Christian life the answers of which are not clear,” he said. “There are, for
the most part, new questions which demand new answers and it is a service to
the Church to examine them and look for answers even if the novelty of the
issues involves some risks.”
Still, many Jesuits would like to
see more obvious loyalty to the Pope and Church teachings, in accordance with
their unique fourth vow of loyalty to the Pope. That’s an issue expected to be
high up on the agenda of the Society’s next general congregation in 2008.
“Benedict needs his thinking,
perceptive, wise, selfless, and faithful sons, who are filled with the zeal of
Ignatius, Xavier and Faber, to encounter but not succumb to the charm of the
positivistic and materialistic world,” said Father Araujo.
“For his work to continue with Jesuit support, our training must be rigorous,
both intellectually and spiritually, in order to assist Pope Benedict in his
responsibilities for the care of souls that has the fundamental objective of
leading them to God and his promise of salvation for all.”
For the future, Pope Benedict’s
advice was simple: Follow the example of your founder. And emulating him, the
Pope suggested, is the secret to the order’s future well-being and the
fulfillment of its role in bringing souls to salvation.
“St. Ignatius of Loyola was above
all a man of God, who put God in the first place in his life,” the Pope
recalled. “He was a man of profound prayer, which found its center and its
culmination in the daily Celebration of the Eucharist.”
writes from Rome.