AMDG

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Fr Pedro Arrupe

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,  the general of the Jesuits,  noticed that in the 1970’s there was a pattern of men leaving the order soon after they had been ordained.  It was almost as though, even after the long period of formation, they were expecting something magical to happen at ordination and were disappointed when it didn’t.  Maybe they had a rather superficial understanding of the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred.   So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued in 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.

PictureWe 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.  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 were expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions so you can see how it can be helpful to have powerful allies.

44423190For 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 countrymen.  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

There seems to be a curious collection of images of Mary that have been maliciously attacked at the height of anti-Catholic tensions.  The famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa 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 vulnerability 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 Czestochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this had become an icon of a 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.