The Jesuits meet with Pope Francis
An encounter is always full of meaning. We meet people everyday. People we know and people we don’t know. We meet a glance, a face, a smile. Each one of these meetings, whether we are aware of it or not, always leaves a mark deep within us. Perhaps undetected, impossible to recognise. But it is there.
Some encounters exist only in our dreams. They take shape in our hearts and feed our projects: ‘I will say this, I will do this’.
One thing is certain, when these encounters take place, they never go as planned.
This Wednesday, 1st August, at 8 am, the air in Rome was already hot and heavy. With a group of 24 young Jesuits, I walked to the Perugino Gate to take part in a private audience with Pope Francis.
A thousand thoughts were swimming in my head. What do you say to a pope? But above all, what to say to this pope, because he is not just any pope. At least not for me.
He is the pope of my vocation. I still remember the shiver that ran up my spine when I heard him say, “How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!“
The sweetness and depth of his words, the normality of his gestures, his continuous attempts to engage those around him, have conquered my heart. If the Pope can be normal and inspire such joy, I can too. Thus, all the masks I was wearing suddenly became heavy and unendurable. I began to question myself, so I discerned and I found my vocation. I began to find out who I really am.
Now, the idea of being in front of this man paralysed me. I was dominated by different emotions and was feeling very nervous. Then he entered the hall. His walk was a bit lopsided, but firm. His face was radiant, and a contagious smile opened on it. He fondly shook the hand of each one of us. “Good morning. I am pleased to welcome you. Many thanks for this visit, it is good for me”.
We were at home. We were with our father, with our brother.
He talked to us about our vocation, about our identity as Jesuits, which consists of certain tensions, such as freedom and obedience; unity and diversity; prayer and action.
Courage and doubt.
He said “It used to be said that the first role of the General was to put the Jesuits to pasture, and another said, ‘Yes, but it is like putting a flock of toads out to pasture’: one over here, one over there. But this is good, because great freedom is needed, without freedom one cannot be a Jesuit. And a great obedience to the Pastor.”
This struck me a lot. Obedience does not cancel personal identity. A shepherd leads us, but we jump like frogs. The beauty of our vocation is to find out our true identity, discover who we really are. A pre-packaged scheme doesn’t work. Becoming who we are. Is not this the best definition of holiness?
As Pope Francis reminds us in his recent apostolic exhortation Gaudete et e exultate, holiness does not conform to a pre-established model, but it is a call addressed to everyone, reachable by everyone, with the help of God, in a personal and unique way.
This is why I was happy to give the Pope an icon of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, painted by one of my Jesuit brothers.
Aloysius is shown recognising the face of Christ in a poor man. For a long time I had difficulty in appreciating the sanctity of Aloysius, because very often he was described as a kind of superhuman, pure and unstained by any human weakness. I find this a very abstract concept of sanctity.
Today, I believe that the reason why we remember him as a saint is because Aloysius found a plague victim abandoned on the street and helped him, risking his own life. And, he died for this. He is holy because he gave his life; because he recognised the face of Christ in those who suffered and were abandoned; because, when he saw that dying man, he saw in him a human being and not just a plague victim. Aloysius became thus fully human, fully himself. Holy.
This is very concrete.
San Luigi Gonzaga, Icon written by Luigi Territo SJ
With utter simplicity, our meeting ended after smiles and a last joke by Francis who, after having greeted everyone again, went to welcome the great crowd that awaited him for the general audience.
Some encounters leave a clear sign and they become milestones in our life. Like this simple meeting with a father who spoke to us as a brother.