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Pope Francis at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan, on November 26, 2019. Pope Francis at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan, on November 26, 2019.   (AFP or licensors)

Pope’s dream for Jesuits in Thailand and Japan: a young church close to the people

During his Apostolic Journey to Thailand and Japan, November 19-26, Pope Francis, who is a Jesuit, had separate private meetings with the Jesuits in Bangkok and Tokyo. The conversation of the Pope has now been published by the respected Jesuit periodical, “La Civiltà Cattolica”. We bring you summaries of the issues raised during the two meetings.

Pope Francis met a group of 48 Jesuits from Thailand in Bangkok on November 22.  During an informal chat with them, he responded to a few questions.

Good of the country and people

“I dream of a young Church, very close to the people, fresh. Of course, I am well aware of and concerned about the problems you have to deal with, such as exploitation linked to sex tourism. You Jesuits must do everything possible to raise the level of society. Work for the good of your country and for the dignity of the people!”  This was the concluding advice of Francis to the Jesuits he met in Bangkok, after having addressed issues such as situations of injustice, the need for prayer, how the encyclical “Laudato si” has been received in the Church and the world, the problem of refugees and the pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics.


Speaking about the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Pope Francis stressed the relevance of the “ministry of hospitality”.  Recalling the vision of the Jesuit General, Father Pedro Arrupe, the Pope said, “This was the testament of the Pedro Arrupe, who right here in Thailand, in his last speech, reiterated the importance of this mission,” said the Pope who regards Father Arrupe a prophet.

The Holy Father recalled the founding of JRS in Bangkok as the last act of the religious before he died. “The phenomenon of refugees,” the Pope noted, “has always existed, but today it is better known because of social differences, hunger, political tensions and especially war.” “For these reasons,” he said, “migratory movements are intensifying”. 

Defensive mindset

He lamented that the response of the world to this is the “policy of waste”.  “Refugees are waste material” that turns the Mediterranean into a cemetery.   The “notorious cruelty” of some detention centres in Libya touches his heart.   In Asia, there is the question of the Rohingya; he is shocked by some of the narratives at the borders in Europe, where populism is growing; elsewhere, there are walls separating children from parents while there are no walls to keep out the drugs. 

He described this as a “defensive mindset”, that puts us in a “state of fear”, making us believe that we can defend ourselves by strengthening our borders.  “At the same time, he noted, there is exploitation” such as prostitution of girls and various forms of slavery, that the Church is fighting through so many nuns engaged in the field. 

The Christian tradition, the Pope said, has a rich evangelical experience in dealing with the problem of refugees and welcoming foreigners.  “If the Church is a field hospital, this is one of the camps where most of the injured are found,” he said, adding, “It is these hospitals that we need to go to most.”


The Pope said Father Arrupe’s witness gives a boost to the ministry of refugees, saying the former Jesuit Superior General urged those working with refugees never to neglect prayer.  “Only in prayer will we find the strength and inspiration to engage fruitfully with the messy consequences of social injustice,” the Pope said.

Divorced and remarried people

When asked about the pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics, the Pope replied that there is a “casuistic way” of dealing with these situations, “which however is not Christian, even if it can be ecclesiastical”.  It can also be dealt in accordance with the Magisterium of the Church, “as it is written in the 8th chapter of ‘Amoris Laetitia’, by making a journey, accompanying and discerning to find solutions. This, the Pope pointed out, “has nothing to do with situation ethics, but with the great moral tradition of the Church”.  

Meeting with Jesuits of Japan

On the second leg of his Apostolic Journey to Thailand and Japan, Pope Francis celebrated a private Mass with the Jesuits of Japan in the chapel of the Jesuit-run Sophia University of Tokyo on November 26.  He delivered a homily on the need for an apostolic life that is centred on the encounter with Jesus.  

Discipleship of Jesus amid reality

A meeting with the Lord, the Pope said,  always arouses the desire to be with Him, even committing one's life to Him.  The true desire to be with the Lord, the Pope said, must be a desire full of memory, the “memory of an entire road travelled, a memory of God’s great mercy toward each of us,” so that we can remain faithful to Him.   

The encounter with Jesus and the desire to serve Him, the Pope said, must not only be a memory but also realistic and concrete, engaging with what happens in life: poverty, failure, humiliation, our sins, everything.  Our desire must be real because Jesus never takes us out of reality, he said.

To those who say ‘yes’ to Jesus in this way, knowing that anything can happen to him or her, even a failure in the present; and aware of every memory of the past, the Pope said, we experience peace and joy, which is the future. 

The Holy Father urged the Jesuits to have an open heart in the face of the conditions placed on us in everyday life, so that our fidelity may be better forged.  We must not be afraid to sleep in the open air without any refuge.  He urged them not to close the windows saying, “Let us open them to look at the horizon with peace and with joy, doing what each of us can do. Jesus always accompanies us. He chooses us that way.”

05 December 2019, 15:41