By Mike Gabriele
He was Time magazine’s person of the year in 2013 and has graced the covers of countless other periodicals, including purely secular publications such as Rolling Stone and People. Whether visiting the homeless, speaking on immigration and religious liberties, or spinning basketballs with the Harlem Globetrotters, our Jesuit pontiff has made an impact on Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This draw that Pope Francis has on so many people has come to be known as the “Francis Effect.” It created a whirlwind of media attention and excitement during his first visit to America in September, drawing hundreds of thousands to his Masses and public appearances. This pope has a message of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that transcends cultures and generations.
But how has this all affected his brother Jesuits? Pope Francis, after all, is a Jesuit – the first Jesuit pope since St. Ignatius founded the order in 1534. One need not be a Jesuit to understand that his visit to America was a big deal. Many of the Jesuits in the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces were asked by local and national media what it means to have a Jesuit pope, and how his Jesuit background shapes his thoughts and actions. As is usually the case, Pope Francis never ceases to surprise and inspire.
“Many Jesuits in our provinces had the opportunity to see and hear Pope Francis in person,” said Fr. Robert Hussey, SJ, provincial of the Maryland Province. “It was an inspiring experience for all of us just to be in his presence, but also to hear his wise and pastoral words, exhorting us to solidarity and to going out of ourselves to share the Gospel.” Fr. Hussey hopes that the opportunities will continue for Jesuits to share with others the important challenges Pope Francis calls us to act upon.
Fr. John Cecero, SJ, provincial of the USA Northeast Province, anticipates that the pope’s visit will reinvigorate the call to serve the alienated and marginalized. “I am confident that the recent visit of Pope Francis will continue to inspire Jesuits and colleagues to work with and for the poor and to wholeheartedly offer ourselves to others. This is our Jesuit mission, and we are so blessed to witness how Pope Francis models it for us and for the whole Church in his daily ministry.”
Pope Francis marked 2015 as the Year of Consecrated Life, a time to pray for continued vocations in the Church and for those in religious life to re-examine the significance of the mission entrusted to them. This focus on consecrated life has been a key component in much of Pope Francis’ reflections this year. In true Jesuit fashion, he states, “God asks us to fly the nest and be sent to the frontiers of the world.” How special then for those who have dedicated their lives to God to actually meet the Holy Father during the year he designated as a celebration to their vocations, especially the men in formation studying to become priests and brothers in the Society of Jesus.
The pope made a memorable stop inside the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., to greet, encourage and thank the Jesuit novices and other men and women preparing to heed God’s call to a religious life. “For all Jesuits, any opportunity to be with, listen to and pray with the pope is a great blessing,” said Fr. Michael Boughton, SJ, assistant for formation for the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces. “For a young Jesuit, to be with the Jesuit pope who has so captured the hearts and imaginations of young people around the world is a most special grace and joy. His words are a great consolation, and a wonderful challenge to all Jesuits, young and old.”
For Jesuit pastors and priests who celebrate Mass and help lead various drives for social justice, Pope Francis’ visit has provided a catalyst to bring his message and tenets into the pews each week. “There is a new openness to understand the positions Pope Francis takes and the context for them,” acknowledged Fr. James Casciotti, SJ, pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in Baltimore. “I keep meeting all kinds of people who may not even belong to or attend a church but who love to talk about what Francis says and does.”
Since so many people first encounter Jesuits through a school or university, the pope’s invitation to accept all, forgive all, and help all will be spread through Jesuit teachers, chaplains and administrators, and their lay colleagues. St. Ignatius claimed centuries ago, and Pope Francis reiterates today, that “love ought to show itself in deeds more than words.” Our colleges and secondary schools are some of the best places to accomplish this.
Fr. Timothy Brown, SJ, has been a staple at Loyola University Maryland for many years. His Office of Mission Integration seeks to do just that – to motivate students and faculty to live the Jesuit pursuit of faith-filled service and promotion of social justice. “The difference between tourists and pilgrims is that tourists go through a city, whereas pilgrims allow a city to go through them,” Fr. Brown explained. “The pope is not a tourist. He’s asking us to be pilgrims rather than tourists as well – to encounter places not at a distance, but close-up, allowing them to touch our psyche and inspire us to act.”
Less than a month after the pope’s visit, his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, sparked conferences and lectures, and organized student discussions at both Loyola University Maryland and Boston College. In addition, Georgetown University joined over a hundred other Jesuit and Catholic institutions of higher education to sign an official “statement of support and public commitment” to study, promote, and act on the ideals and vision of integral ecology laid out by Pope Francis.
The key theme that Jesuits in all apostolates hope carries forth from the pope’s visit this year is that the excitement and enthusiasm that welcomed him remains an energizer to act, whether at a parish, a school, a retreat center, or anywhere in our daily lives. “As the Jesuits begin our work for the upcoming General Congregation in 2016, the themes that Pope Francis is emphasizing are certainly front and center in our deliberations,” adds Fr. Hussey.
Having any pope visit the United States is an honor, especially getting the chance to actually meet him. Embracing the first Jesuit pope to pray with us, bless us and guide us, is something that will resonate for a very long time with Jesuits, and with all those who hold a special place in their hearts for the values of St. Ignatius.
When Fr. Andrew White, SJ, became the first priest to celebrate Mass in the original thirteen English colonies after landing here in 1634, could he have imagined that nearly 400 years later, the world’s first Jesuit pope would celebrate his first American Mass less than 100 miles away with a crowd of thousands?