By Linda Bordoni
During Pope Francis’ recent apostolic visit to Panama to celebrate World Youth Day, he took time on the sidelines of the event to meet with his brother Jesuits of the Central American nation.
The meeting took place behind closed-doors but, as reported by the Jesuit-run magazine “La Civiltà Cattolica” headed by Father Antonio Spadaro, the conversation centered on the example of martyrs, on the vocation of those belonging to the Society of Jesus and on ministering to young people in a ‘fluid’ world.
According to “La Civiltà Cattolica” some 30 Jesuits were present at the meeting including 18 novices, and all of them were able to participate in an informal conversation with the Pope.
Topics touched upon included the witness provided by Saint Oscar Romero and by Romero’s close friend, the Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande who was assassinated in 1977, a tragedy that led to Romero’s own mission and martyrdom.
Romero and Rutilio
“I am very close to Rutilio”, the Pope reportedly said, revealing that he treasures a scrap of bloodied fabric from Romero’s vestment and a catechesis notebook belonging to Rutilio. He spoke of them as two prophetic figures highlighting how the martyrdom of Rutilio ‘converted’ Romero, and he reflected on how misconceptions and confusion regarding liberation theology almost halted the canonization process for the Salvadoran saint. “The important thing”, he said, is not to be overwhelmed by ideology but to follow Rutilio’s example “who never wavered but did what he had to do”.
At the root of the current cultural crisis
Pope Francis then answered a question regarding the “culture of encounter”. He mentioned a book by Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, who died two years ago, which delves into the issues faced by the new generations whom the Pope called “children of a ‘virtual world’ that helps to create contacts, but does not foster “encounter”. He called it a “rootless” generation because, he said, “the crisis of encounter today” is a “crisis of roots” meaning that young people are immersed in a “ephemeral” culture without solidity and often to do not even have help from their parents, some of whom, he noted, even try to compete with their offspring. “It’s the grandparents who give roots” to young people today, the Pope said, highlighting the value of intergenerational relationships.
The Jesuit vocation
Pope Francis and his brother Jesuits reportedly spent much time speaking about issues regarding the Society of Jesus. Offering young Jesuit novices some personal advice, he recalled the years between 1972 and 1973 when he was Master of novices, telling them of the importance of “having clarity of conscience” because, he said, “there is no place amongst the sons of St. Ignatius for the devious”. This, he said, applies in particular to those charged with formation who must know how to “discern”, instill courage and “not be afraid” or else the bond of brotherhood will be broken.
The Pope also spoke with gratitude of the vocation of religious who are not Jesuit priests, but who have chosen to serve. And to those who are preparing to make their vows “in an age in which the provisional prevails over the definitive”, Pope Francis’ advice is to put their lives into play and be “available for whatever God wants from them”.
Inculturation and identity
Pope Francis also dwelled on the relationship between inculturation and identity. He found inspiration in an anecdote that tells of a young graduate who returns to his simple parents’ peasant home after years of study: he is lost and confused; he has to ask his father even for the names of the most basic agricultural tools, and awkwardly steps onto a rake that swings up and strikes him in the face. It’s an anecdote, the Pope said, that reflects the experience of a young Indian woman he had just shared lunch with at WYD, saying she was tied to her traditions but had become a teacher. One must “inculturate oneself to the end”, the Pope said, without ever becoming a “snob”, and this, he said, pertains specially to religious who are tempted to think their consecration has elevated them to a “more educated” category. So, he quipped, “those who forget their culture risk being struck in the face by a rake!”