A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Pope Francis – a Son of St Ignatius

by Bridget Taumoepeau

Several interviewers have asked how Pope Francis’ Jesuit background and training have influenced his pontificate. The answer is that it is impossible to separate Francis from his Ignatian Spiritualty and his membership of the Society of Jesus.

When the Pope was interviewed by Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, and asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” he replied, “I am a sinner, whom the Lord has looked upon.” In 1975, the then Father General of the Society of Jesus, Pedro Arrupe, called a General Congregation -- a meeting of representatives of the Society from all its Provinces. In its Decree 2, headed “Jesuits Today,” a question is asked -- “What is it to be a Jesuit?” The answer given is, “It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus as Ignatius was.” Fr Bergoglio was present at that meeting as the Provincial for Argentina.

Jorge Mario was attracted to The Society of Jesus, in his own words, because of three things: the missionary spirit; community; and discipline. He described himself as very undisciplined, but admiring of the way Jesuits managed their time etc. He has certainly taken that on board, with his rigorous timetable and his ability to use his time well, without appearing rushed or impatient. People who have met him remark that they felt he was totally focussed on them with a generosity of spirit in the way he talked to them. If you watch him in Rome after a General Audience, you will see that at times he spends up to an hour, often in extreme heat, to mingle and talk with ordinary pilgrims in the square.

St Ignatius, 17th century statue by Juan Martinez Montañés

Another feature of the Society of Jesus is its response to the challenges of our age. It is not a static Society, but one which is constantly reviewing the way that it evangelises, to ensure it is faithful to the end for which it was founded – “for the greater Glory of God and the service of humanity.” It continually asks of itself, “What has it done for Christ; what is it doing for Christ; and what is it going to do for him?”

As a Jesuit, Pope Francis will pray the Examen prayer twice a day -- a prayer of self-reflection, looking at the day through God’s eyes; giving thanks; reviewing the day; facing one’s shortcomings and looking forward to the day to come. Such a prayer invites one to see what one could change, what one could do better. Many people have embraced Ignatian spirituality, and see in Francis the application of such spirituality in all that he says and does.

In this Ignatian Year, we give thanks for the conversion of St Ignatius, the founding of the Society of Jesus, and having a son of Ignatius as the bishop of Rome, helping us to put Christ at the centre of our lives.  

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