Jesuit Superior General: 'As citizens we work for the good of Europe'
By Massimiliano Menichetti
The ceremony set for 12 March 1622 was supposed to be only for the canonization of Isidore the Farmer, but a different celebration took place instead.
Just a few months earlier, in January 1622, the causes of four other blesseds had been concluded, and the Congregation of Rites decided to give life to a "multiple" event, the first in the history of the Church.
For this reason, together with Isidore, Pope Gregory XV canonised four monumental figures: the Carmelite Teresa of Avila, the founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuit Brother Francis Xavier, and the founder of the Oratory, Philip Neri.
Now, 400 years later, a commemoration is held to celebrate that momentous event, in the presence of Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit.
Fr. Arturo Sosa, the Superior General of the Jesuits, presides over the Mass at the Church of the Gesù, and spoke to Vatican News about the commemoration.
Q: Father Sosa, the celebration falls at a particular historical moment. We cannot ignore the dark days of the pandemic, nor of the war that wounds humanity, such as the conflict in Ukraine. What are your thoughts on this conflict and what are the ways to build peace?
First of all I would like to say that they are five saints, truly inspirational figures for all of us. It is a coincidence that they were all canonised on the same day. I think the Holy Father has also repeated several times that the first way is prayer. Our faith insists so much on the fact that God is the one who acts in history, that we must try to be there, in contact with the Lord who is present and who accompanies human events in all their moments. Then, of course, there is the active presence of solidarity, which can be expressed in many ways.
There are so many people from the Catholic Church and elsewhere who are there to lend a hand. What they do for reception in European countries, here in Italy, in other countries... A presence of solidarity that also involves being well informed, trying to understand, not closing our eyes, ears, nothing. Just be there with your heart, in tune with the people. And then there is politics.
One of the things that seems most important to me today is to strengthen the sense of planetary citizenship. That is, it is not a problem of the Ukrainians, it is not a problem of the Russians, it is not a problem of the European Union. It is our problem, as citizens of this world: as citizens, we must push politics in the direction of the common good. Of course, a war like this is against citizenship, against people's wellbeing, against the wellbeing of nature too.
So, doing politics is very important from a personal point of view, as a citizen, and also to support this. For example, the feeling of public opinion is very important at the moment. And then in the political sphere there is the aspect of negotiation, of diplomacy... But all this will not succeed if you don't have strong support from citizens in the world and in Europe.
Q: Pope Francis, speaking of St Ignatius, once said that discernment is a compass that allows us to set out on a road that has many bends. What do you think humanity needs?
Precisely to learn this discernment. When I hear the word "discernment", I always think of characters we know from the Bible. First and foremost, Abraham. Let us say that Abraham was already a mature person, who had led a successful life, whom the Lord asked to leave everything behind, even his family, and to set out on his journey. As any of us would have done, he asked: "Where shall I go?". And the answer: 'I will tell you'.
What is needed now is not to try to take control into our own hands, but to leave control in the hands of God. It is the theme of how we perceive the aspect of power at this time. Power can be understood as: I am the one in control and so I do what I want to do, without thinking of the good of others, of the common good.
So, we need to understand that we are not in control, but that we must leave the control of history to God and learn to see how God does this, what signs he gives us to follow the path: "I will tell you where to go". Discernment is this: learning to read the signs of history that can show us where God wants to take us as humanity. As humanity, as men and women, we need this sensitivity, to understand this and learn to read the signs of the times.
Q: In this sense we can also read the Ignatian Year or the 400th anniversary of the canonisations that we spoke of at the beginning, that is, they are celebrations that are not limited to looking at the past...
Absolutely. We say that we live this as memory, memory also in the Biblical sense. Remember how, after the flight from Egypt, the Law says: you must repeat this, you must let the new generations know what happened, how God acted in our lives, in our people...
These five great people had a very profound experience of finding God in even difficult events. And the five saints we are celebrating on this occasion are people who also experienced great change. When the world discovered "another half" - and that therefore it was much more complex than what they had known up to that moment - they discovered that there was a thirst for God there, that they needed the Gospel...
They are people who went outside themselves, outside their times; they went deep into religious life: Teresa or Ignatius, different and deeper; Francis Xavier, without knowing other cultures went into those worlds... This is the memory that urges us to do the will of God.
It is not the same attitude that kings had, for example, who wanted to have the riches of the world of their time. It was different, it was the desire to find people, to find cultures, with news to share with them: the news of the Lord who makes us brothers and sisters, who urges us to make a more just world.
Q: March 13th is also the anniversary of the ninth year of Pope Francis' pontificate and the start of the tenth year. What is your thought for the Pope?
The first, that he continues to show us this way of discernment that from the beginning of his pontificate he has always repeated to the whole Church: "We must go in the way that the Lord asks of us".
Then, I think of this "going on mission", of the meaning of the Church which is mission. Pope Francis, when he speaks of the synodal Church, speaks of the Church in mission, the people of God on the march, the people of God following the Lord in His mission.
The only way to unite such a great variety of people, of cultures is the mission of the Lord, the redemption of the human race. And this, the missionary Church, is precisely the synodal Church. The one in which everyone has something to do, to say, to show, following the mission of the Lord.