Pope Francis, Evangelisation and the Jesuits

pope-francisAs with the assassination of President Kennedy, many of us probably remember where we were when our current Pope was elected. I was at the dinner table, glued to the BBC having been alerted by the ‘Pope App’ that white smoke had been spotted.

I heard first of all that a South American cardinal had been chosen, and then that he was a Jesuit. We all knew we were seeing something new unfolding.

This ‘something new’ has been referred to as the ‘Francis factor’ about which much continues to be spoken and written. But what about the ‘Jesuit factor’ on Pope Francis?
This is what Fr Pedley, himself a Jesuit, sets out to examine and in Pope Francis, Evangelisation and the Jesuits asks whether it makes a difference.

Fr Pedley goes on to answer this question with reference to Pope Francis’s spoken and written utterances, particularly the Pope’s recurring theme of joy – the joy of the Gospel and joy in evangelisation. He links this with the rich thread of that motif running throughout Jesuit history and in so doing provides a very valuable little summary linking some of the Holy Father’s key ideas with themes from Jesuit spirituality.

Central to that spirituality – the spirituality of our Jesuit Pope – are the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola. Fr Pedley provides a useful precis of both the aim and method of the Exercises, the freedom to know and respond in loving service to God’s will for the person as he grows in an intimate encounter with Christ who loves us, sinners as we are, and calls us out of ourselves to work for and with him in building the Father’s Kingdom.

510px-ignatius_von_loyolaWe learn to discern the voice of God calling us to this as distinct from the other voices which would lead us away. We are required an attentive listening, practised through the daily prayer of Examen which, as Fr Pedley points out, Pope Francis would, as a Jesuit, pray daily.

The spirituality of St Ignatius is thus integral to Pope Francis, and Fr Pedley quotes various writings and sayings of the Holy Father wherein he identifies these influences with the footnotes enabling the reader to pursue these themes further in their context.

In order to answer his own question as to who are the Jesuits who formed our present Pope, Fr Pedley leads us to some of the key figures of Jesuit history to see how they lived with ‘the smell of the sheep’ long before Pope Francis’s call to pastors today to do likewise.

There follows a somewhat whistle-stop history of a few familiar Jesuit saints, beginning naturally with Ignatius himself, and we see how he and Saints Francis Xavier, Matteo Ricci and others faced problems which continue to resonate today. In illustrating their engagement with varying cultures and situations, Fr Pedley provides an insightful continuity of Jesuit history up to Pope Francis.

Yet this booklet does not simply try to claim Pope Francis for the Jesuits as ‘one of their own’ but rather looks forward and outward in an invitation to the Jesuits – and indeed all of us – to respond to Pope Francis’s constant call for us to be joyful missionaries of God’s Word to the world. That at least is Fr Pedley’s hope-filled conclusion and his booklet stirs the heart so to respond.

At the time of writing this review, the Jesuits are continuing their deliberations at their 36th General Congregation, under the leadership of their new Father General, Arturo Sosa SJ. We look forward to seeing how the direction of the Society of Jesus unfolds under a Latin American superior in a Latin American papacy – exciting times indeed!


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Praying with St Ignatius and Pope Francis, by Dermot Mansfield SJ

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Ignatius of Loyola, Classic biography of the founder of the Jesuit order – by Rev J A Philips SJ

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Pope Francis, Evangelisation and the Jesuits, by Christopher Pedley SJ

 

 

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