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Pope Francis Meets With Brother Jesuits in Ecuador

francisco jesuitas ecuador – en

© Jesuitas Ecuador/Facebook

Jose Antonio Varela - published on 07/08/15

The stop included a visit to "Mr. Nobody," his old friend "Fr. Paquito"

Pope Francis chose to make three visits that were especially meaningful for him as a Jesuit, as well as for those who will have the privilege of being his hosts. These stops on his itinerary allowed him to be with the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), the community at the source of his vocation and of his joy.

The Pope visited two Jesuit centers in the city of Quito, as well as an outstanding educational institution in Guayaquil where he saw his friend "Fr. Paquito."

On Tuesday, July 7, the third day of his visit to Ecuador, the Holy Father arrived at the Church of the Society of Jesus, after giving a discourse at the Pontifical Catholic University in the city. Earlier, on Monday, July 6, he visited Guayaquil, where he ate with the Jesuit community in charge of the emblematic Javier School.

A centuries-old presence

The Society of Jesus in Ecuador directs nearly 100 works in Ecuador, ranging from educational institutions and missions to social works and churches. This in itself would be enough reason for the Pope to want to stop at a few of these works, using his presence to support the effort and perseverance of the spiritual sons of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who arrived in Ecuador 429 years ago. 

Although throughout the centuries not all has gone well for the Jesuits, the extent of their various apostolates shows their commitment, especially in the areas of education and social work.

The Society of Jesus was suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, shortly after King Carlos III of Spain expelled them in 1767 from the lands under his rule, which included the Spanish colonies in existence at the time. As a consequence, they had to leave Ecuador and did not return until 1850, 36 years after Pope Pius VII restored the Jesuits world-wide. In little less than two years, a liberal president (José María Urbina) would expel them from the country again. He considered them a threat "that interfered in many areas," as a chronicle from the time records.

Visiting Paquito

The three communities that Pope Franics visited ("to feel accompanied," as he said once when explaining his motives for entering the Jesuits) have a common denominator: a living experience of Ignatian spirituality.

In the case of Guayaquil, the Javier School is an educational institution founded in 1707, even before the Jesuits were expelled from Ecuador. Currently, it is an internationally certified co-ed school that offers all levels of education. It is oriented by an Ignatian educational philosophy that makes it a leading institution in the country.

That is not the only thing that makes it special. Its community of Jesuits houses someone who has been a friend of Pope Francis for more than thirty years: Fr. Paquito.

He is a ninety-year-old Jesuit, whose full name is Fr. Francisco Cortés García. He has become famous because the Pope always sends him greetings with every Ecuadorian he meets. "I’m no one," Paquito says [he is known by the press as "Mr. Nobody"] although he remembers with nostalgia the time he met Francisco, when they were both in charge of Jesuit schools in their respective cities of Guayaquil and Buenos Aires.

The Pope’s visit with Fr. Paquito wasn’t listed in the official program, but he made time to visit his Ecuadorian friend — who, according to what some people say, had the intuition that the man who at the time was Fr. Bergoglio would later be chosen for the Chair of St. Peter…

To the greater glory of God

When he returned from Quito, the Pope visited two emblematic works of the Jesuits in Ecuador: the Church of the Society of Jesus and the Pontifical Catholic University.

The first of these visits was a private one. The "Iglesia de la Compañía" is considered the most representative and important Baroque church in Ecuador, and is ranked among the best examples of its kind in Colonial America.  The Jesuits have manned the church since its construction, which began in 1605. It was declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1978.

Saint Mariana of Jesus (17th century), the first Ecuadorian to be canonized, used to pray before its magnificent altars. Her remains are buried under the main altar. Also, a miracle took place in the adjacent building that once housed the San Gabriel school, when the school’s image of Our Lady of Sorrows shed tears in 1906. The image, to which the Pope has professed faithful devotion, will be brought into the church for his veneration.

The country’s educators

The Holy Father chose the Pontifical Catholic University as the venue for an encounter with representatives of the educational community of Ecuador. There, he spoke to approximately 5,000 teachers and many other students and guests. He encouraged them to understand education not as a means to obtain social privileges, but as a responsibility that should enable students to deal with the problems of today’s world, particularly our duty to care for the poorest and most vulnerable among us and to be careful custodians of the environment.

The Pope’s message of hope, respect and responsibility has found a deep resonance in the people of Ecuador.

Translated by Matthew Green.

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