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Pope Francis met with Jesuits in Athens on 4 December Pope Francis met with Jesuits in Athens on 4 December  (Vatican Media)

Pope to Jesuits in Greece: Humility is true path God offers to religious

The Civiltà Cattolica newspaper publishes a transcript of Pope Francis’ encounter with Jesuits in Greece earlier this month, during which the Pope spoke about the message God is sending religious orders as vocations diminish and apostolates change.

By Devin Watkins

Pope Francis met with 7 of the 9 Jesuits working in Greece on 4 December, the first day of his Apostolic Journey to the EU nation.

He held an hour-long conversation with the community whose members hail from various nations.

Following a long-standing tradition related to these events, the Jesuit review La Civiltà Cattolica published a transcript (in Italian) of the exchange, entitled “The Logic of the Inexplicable”.

Insight of religious brothers

During the meeting, the Pope invited his brother Jesuits to ask him questions freely and share their stories.

The first to speak up was a religious brother—a Jesuit who has not been ordained a priest. The Pope praised the insight that brothers often have into situations and personalities. He also told a story about a time when he was Jesuit provincial in Argentina and had to decide whether to approve one seminarian for ordination.

Even though the young man was full of promise, a Jesuit brother urged him to send the man to work for a while in the apostolate before priestly ordination.

“I ask myself why Jesuit brothers have the ability to understand the true nature of life. Perhaps it is because they know how to mix affectivity with work with their hands.”

Creative indifference

Pope Francis then took a question from a Korean-born Jesuit who founded a centre for refugee children in Athens and now works merely as a volunteer in the same organisation.

The Pope praised the Jesuit for stepping down from the helm of the centre, saying every Jesuit should do the same.

“No apostolate belongs to us, because it is of the Lord. This expresses creative indifference. One should be a father and let the child grow.”

Listen to our report

A message of humility in declining numbers

He also spoke to another elderly Jesuit who noted the decline of the Order in Greece, which has given up various apostolates as numbers have declined.

Pope Francis said the Order had over 33,000 members when he was in the novitiate in 1958, but that it now counts around half that number of vocations.

The Pope added there is meaning behind this continuing trend, which has its roots in God who sends vocations.

“I believe the Lord is giving us a teaching for religious life. For us it has meaning in the sense of humiliation.”

He recalled that the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius always point to humility and humiliation, making reference to the “Third Degree of Humility”. It reads: “I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobrium with Christ replete with it rather than honors.”

Pope Francis said this is the “only Jesuit fecundity that matters,” saying “we must get used to humiliation.”

Smiling through difficulties as a song to hope

In the same vein, another Jesuit asked the Pope what the future holds, since years ago Greek Jesuits dreamed about dialoguing with the Orthodox, though the focus has now shifted to helping migrants.

The Pope said Jesuits must be “faithful to the Cross of Christ”, adding that “only God knows.”

However, he said, ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox is now going well, which shows that “you have sowed well through prayer, your hopes, and the things you were able to do.”

To a Belgian-born Jesuit who works with refugees and was once arrested as a suspected human trafficker, the Pope said this type of dedication to the needs of the mission must have been “quite a humiliation!”

Yet, he said, the important thing in religious life is to grow old and tired “with a smile”.

“When one sees this smiling old age—which is tired but not bitter—then you are a song to hope.”

16 December 2021, 11:17