I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the general of the Jesuits, noticed that in the 1970’s there was a curious phenomenon of men who left the order (and often the priesthood) soon after they had been ordained. It was almost as though even after the long period of formation they were expecting something magic to happen – and had a rather superficial expectation of what the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred, really meant. So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued on December 27, 1979 addressed this – and now there is a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.
We are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid. It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK. It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits, although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain. Their portraits line the corridors. In today’s climate of Islamic violence we have to be careful about the narrative of martyrdom – although it is worth noting that none of the Catholic men and women executed were perpetrators of Violence. Although it fair to say that Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada. A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh …. but we will come to that in a minute. The College, well endowed, and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family. When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits where expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions, so you can see how it is good to know you have powerful allies …. things can change however.
For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel. After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596, some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue to the market square where they desecrated it. The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600. They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow country men. Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College
A little like the famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czetochowa which was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430… and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike. The potential power of our vulnerabilty is a spiritual paradox. Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czetochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this icon of the suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities. Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the world Youth Day celebrations, I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.