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Pope Francis at the Gesù

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The Irish Jesuits had their own observer on the spot when Pope Francis celebrated St Ignatius’ Day by offering Mass in the Gesù, under the extraordinary frescoes by Giovanni Battista (known as Baciccia) of the saint. Fr Gerry Whelan, who teaches at the Gregorian University, sent this personal comment on the event.

The event was truly moving and I was only a few metres from the Pope as he preached. His face always comes alive when he departs from a written text and starts to extemporize. This time he did so twice. The first was concerning the first point of his three-point homily where he spoke about how Jesuits need to be “decentred” so as to be focused on Christ and then to able to find Christ in the Church and so to work in the name of the Church. He looked up and said “but you still need to be creative. And research is important . . . you need to go to the peripheries, but there are many peripheries.”

Next, during his third point, that of accepting our limitations as we serve the kingdom, he looked up and spoke of how he often admires aged Jesuits who are fully aware of the limited abilities to do much—and yet you can see the desire for the Kingdom in them. Then he spoke of the two examples of Jesuits who are at the sunset of their lives that serve as icons for him. The first is St. Francis Xavier looking on the coast of China as he dies. The second is Pedro Arrupe speaking about the importance of prayer to members of the JRS in Asia just before he had his stroke. Apparently, Arrupe had said, prophetically, that “if this was to be my last testament to you, I would tell you to pray more.”

One more aspect of the Mass was a short, informal, and good-humoured welcoming few words given by Fr. General to the Pope at the beginning of Mass. He repeatedly referred to him as “brother Francis,” noted humorously that Pope Francis had spoken to journalists on the plane back from Brazil how he “thinks like a Jesuit,” and “how easy and joyful it is to think with the Church”. He concluded by saying that the whole Society asks simply of the Pope: “What does the Church want of us in the service of the Gospel?”