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Pope Francis invites Jesuits to descend into other people’s “hell”

Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
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Meditate on the Passion, he tells his brothers, and be not afraid to go into the terrain of the devil

As the spiritual support of their flocks, the Jesuits must not fear to descend into other people’s “hell,” Pope Francis told his spiritual brothers of the Baltic countries during his trip to this region, according to the transcript published recently by the Italian magazine Civiltà Cattolica.

When traveling abroad, the first Jesuit Pope always tries to meet the local members of the Society of Jesus. He is usually accompanied by the Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, director of the Civiltà Cattolica and a member of his entourage.

Father Spadaro subsequently publishes these exchanges, which are held behind closed doors. During his trip to the Baltic countries, the pontiff did not stray from this tradition, meeting the Jesuits of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia on September 23 in Vilnius (Lithuania).

We must not be afraid to go down into “people’s hell,” said the Successor of Peter on this occasion. Upon entering the “terrain of the devil,” one touches human and social sufferings, he said; that is to say, people’s “wounds,” and, through them, those of Christ. It helps, said the head of the Catholic Church, to “meditate on the Passion of the Lord.”

This mission, however, should not be undertaken “on one’s own,” but with the help of the Lord and the “beautiful mafia of angels,” he jokingly recommended.

Difficult situations must be confronted with the Lord, he assured, and in dialogue with the whole community, especially the superior. “The provincial is a brother,” said the pope, who himself held this position for the Jesuit community of Argentina between 1973 and 1980.

“A negative legacy of the Enlightenment”

In addition, Pope Francis discussed the role of the confessor. According to him, it is “to embrace the prodigal son.” The confessor must therefore act with “paternity” and never chase away a penitent. If not, he warned, his bishop must question whether this priest should have the faculties to confess. It is not a question of granting “sweeping” pardons, but of acting like a “merciful father.”

With the Jesuits, the Sovereign Pontiff also denounced “a negative legacy of the Enlightenment”: An education conceived as “filling the head with ideas.” Indeed, he explained, calling upon one of his favorite images, there are “three languages”: that of the head, but also that of the hands and the heart.

The three go “together,” he insisted, pleading for an “education of the heart.” According to him, the Jesuits must continue their educational charism — “a strong path” — based on these three languages.

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