St Ignatius of Loyola; detail from the cover of Jesuits: A Multibiography, by Jean Lacouture
The election of the first Jesuit pope seems to have put a spring in the step of many people of goodwill, not just church-goers. Even regular church-going Catholics are wondering about the significance of a Jesuit being pope, writes Father Frank Brennan in The Australian.
Usually we Jesuits do not become bishops, let alone cardinals. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the only Jesuit at the conclave. He was cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires. In Australia we have had only one Jesuit bishop, Gregory O'Kelly, the Bishop of Port Pirie.
Ignatius Loyola, the 16th-century founder of the Jesuits, took a dim view of Jesuits being chosen for hierarchical office in the church. He didn't want to dilute the mix, with the best being promoted as bishops. He wanted the better-educated Jesuits to take a special vow of obedience to the pope, being available to serve as priests sent to wherever the need was greatest.
After the Second Vatican Council concluded in 1965, there was considerable tension between the Jesuits and the papacy. Pope Paul VI later admitted to feelings of "joy and trepidation" when he met the Jesuit provincials and elected representatives in General Congregation while the Vatican Council was still in session.
Nine years later, Paul VI again met the General Congregation of Jesuit leaders, applauding the Jesuit "solicitude for the poor, for the sick, for those on the margins of society". He confirmed the Jesuit mission: "Wherever in the church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the frontline of social conflict, there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, there also have been, and there are, Jesuits."
This notion of going to the frontiers resonates in an interview last year when Bergoglio said: "We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church. It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former."
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