Tag Archive: Jesuit

Person of the Year


proxyThe announcement that Pope Francis has been chosen as Time Magazines ‘person of the year’  marks an incredible turnaround in the public perception of Catholicism. Pope John Paul II was also given this title in 1994 – in recognition of his moral leadership and role in the downfall of Communism and after he had been Pope for 16 years (Pope John XIII was also in 1962).  It is quite remarkable that Francis got it before he had even completed a year of his pontificate. Time describes him as a “septuagenarian superstar” who “makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office”.  It is worth noting that his biggest critics seem to be from within the church particularly from the right.  I was told by one of our students that he is not going down very well in Poland where the church is still riddled with clericalism.    Maybe aware of these internal critics – many of them who seem to be digital pharisees – the Vatican spokesman, Fr Lombardi SJ, said that Francis wasn’t looking for Time’s recognition, but if it gave people hope, then the Pontiff was happy.

What is the hope based on? Perhaps it is simply leadership.  It is interesting that the day after the Mandela Memorial – when Barack Obama has sharp words for some of the worlds leaders   “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people…..  There are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard”     It was notable that the assembled crowds booed their own president Jacob Zuma who has been accused of wide-spread  corruption.  The Pope Francis vote seems to be against a background of weak-leadership in the world.  Times managing editor, Nancy Ellis, confirmed this by writing, “At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge,”

Ad Multos Annos


Icon of Pierre Favre by Fr. William McNichols

Icon of Pierre Favre by Fr. William McNichols

There have been many whispers but today it seems to be confirmed in the Italian Press.  Pierre Favre, the first Jesuit priest (he was already ordained when he joined with the group of men who were gathering around St Ignatius in Paris) is to be declared a saint in December.   This is a great joy for many of us Jesuits, he is often quoted as being one of the favourite first companions but relatively unknown outside of the Society of Jesus.  It seem that Pope Francis shares his fellow Jesuits affection for this great man.  In the interview he gave to Jesuit magazines including Thinking Faith  in October the Pope said this about Favre,

“[His] dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.”

Pope Francis PrayingPierre Favre (or Peter Faber) was highly esteemed by St Ignatius as the companion he trusted the most to give the Spiritual Exercises.  He had a remarkable skill in what we call ‘spiritual conversation’. a great preacher, and a remarkable ability to reconcile warring factions, particular families that were divided.  This ‘spiritual skill set’ which would be valuable at any time was especially needed in the spiritual fractious times of the Reformation.  He was sent by St Ignatius to be a ‘periti’ (an expert) at the Council of Trent.  His reputation grew so fast that the he was missioned directly by popes and sent into flash points in Germany such as Speyer, Mainz, and Cologne,  where Catholic Bishops were teteering towards Lutheranism.

Antonio Spadaro who gave the interview to Pope Francis provides this commentary As Pope Francis lists these personal characteristics of his favorite Jesuit I understand just how much this figure has truly been a model for his own life. Michel de Certeau, S.J., characterised Faber simply as “the reformed priest,” for whom interior experience, dogmatic expression and structural reform are intimately inseparable. I begin to understand, therefore, that Pope Francis is inspired precisely by this kind of reform.

Already beatifed, Pope Francis is following a  process for Favre’s canonization called “equivalent canonization” – when he omits the judicial process and ceremonies involved and orders the new saint to be venerated in the Universal Church.  John Paul II, decreed 3 such canonizations, Benedict XVI decreed 1Here is a link to the report http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/favre-gesuita-santo-30065/

Pope Francis’ liberating effect


BRAZIL-POPE-WYD-CHILDGrowing up as a young priest, a terrible sadness for us is the climate that has been engendered by the paedophile crisis. The terrible acts of a tiny minority of dysfunctional priests has smeared us all, to such an extent that it seems crazy to family and friends that we enter the priesthood in this day and age.  Sure, we are not entering for an easy life or the prestige and power!  Our formation, screening and training is excellent to prepare us for comprehensive safeguarding and a sensitivity to the vulnerable adults and children.  However there has also been a real climate of fear about engaging with young people, and cases of false allegations and a litigious culture can act like a straight jacket on your pastoral impulses.

That is why Pope Francis global witness is so liberating for us!  How comfortable he is in his own skin, as a friend who received a blessing from him recently said – he just radiates joy and love.  And more importantly how children flock to him and embrace him.  This is a great boost to our confidence and long may it continue.  The world needs that powerful witness of Francis – like a Grandad to the world.  And children who are being robbed of their childhood by pornography and hypersexualisation, they also need him.  Below are two moving examples of this.

Firstly a clip that was replayed and replayed by the Brazilian TV channels when the Pope was over for World Youth Day. Nathan de Brito, the little boy who broke past barriers to run into Pope Francis’ arms. As They embraced on the Popemobile as de Brito confided to Pope Francis, “Your Holiness, I want to be a priest of Christ, a representative of Christ.” Pope Francis beamed at the small child in the Brazilian national soccer team jersey and told him, “I am going to pray for you, but I ask you to pray for me.” He wiped tears from his eyes as he embraced de Brito and told him, “As of today, your vocation is set.” After exiting the Popemobile, the video shows de Brito blowing the Pope a kiss before covering his face with his hands, completely overwhelmed by the incredible experience.

The second clip is of the Pope meeting  migrants who had been shipwrecked in Lampedusa and those who helped them…and then there is the little boy in the yellow short….he will not leave the Pope’s side! he even escorts a little girl to see the Pope!  A security guy tries to bribe him with candy but has no luck…he wants to stay with Francis! As the commentator on you tube says - I love this kid…and understand him! This happens in the first couple of minutes in the clip 


The Jesuits run one of the most prestigious High Schools in Cairo, Holy Family College,  an urgent message was sent from the superior Nabil Gabriel   on Saturday

College_de_la_sainte_famille_black_whiteThe situation here is very tense. Yesterday Friday, after the noon prayer at the mosque ‘El Fath’ on the Ramses place has started a rally of the Muslim brothers. They wanted to gather there and to move to the El Tahrir Square to take it by assault. The word order was given to all the mosques to rally. …… (later on)…… We must expect retaliation from the Muslim brothers as a result of the disappearance of the two places of ‘sit-in’.  We are watching the news on all channels of information as you. We do not understand the attitude of the West and the United States who defend at any price Morsi and its supporters on the pretext that it was “democratically elected”. They do not want to see the reality in the face and find that they have to do with an international terrorist movement. We have not finished to make the balance sheet of the burned churches as well as other public or private institutions. One thing is clear, they want to take revenge by sowing disorder. We limit to the maximum to travel and are watching the events as you and on the testimony of people who call us. Pray that people demonstrate wisdom and quiet down.

PRO_MiniaAnother Jesuit from the community visited the Jesuit works in Minia, 250 kms South of Cairo along the Nile.  He witnesses sad scenes of destruction in the Jesuit school there and sent photos - Yesterday I went to Minia with Father Magdi, we discovered the state of destruction, there is a lot of material damage: the building of the association JBA is completely burned, the buses and cars are all also burned, the glass for windows of the residence and the school have been broken by the rocks that were launched during the event before-yesterday! For the moment, there is a little quiet, but we expect the demonstration after the noon prayer, it is hoped that they will not nonsense. I praise all what our companions (Brother Radi Mounir, Father Bimal Kerkata, Brothers Amir Adel and Emil-Fawzi ) have done, a tremendous amount to protect the premises. Yesterday we have not slept the whole night to be vigilant after attempts to launch Molotov cocktails on the side of the buildings of the Association!I have just arrived in Cairo, the situation at the place Ramses is disturbing. Pray the Lord to protect Egypt of violence!

Finally we continue to pray for the Jesuits who are missing in Syria – who Pope Francis himself prayed for on the feast of St Ignatius.  Unconfirmed reports are coming through that Fr  Paolo Dall’Oglio has been killed.  Very little of the systematic attack on Christians and Christian institutions is being reported here in the UK by the BBC.  Perhaps it is politically correct shortsightedness, however I think it is due to a pernicious and popular misconception about Christianity – that Christians are the oppresors not the oppresed. ACcording to the Frankfurt based Society for HUman Rights – 80% of acts of religious discrimination in the world today are against Christians.  Aid to the Church in Need estimates 150,000 CVHrisrtians die for their faith every year – that is a staggering 17 people an hour.  However this doesn’t sit well with the smug prejudices of the Western Liberal Elite.   You get a sense of the frustration those who are on the front-line feel (see the superiors message above) as he talks about the attitude of the West.  The excellent commentator John Allen – talks about a Global Persecution of Christians and comments on how under-reported it is – excellent examples are here and here.

Meanwhile all we can do is pray for our brothers in Egypt and Syria or in their words - Pray that people demonstrate wisdom and quiet down and Pray the Lord to protect Egypt of violence!






On the historical night of the election of Pope Francis – the Jesuit community & guests Fr Dushan Croos & Br Guy Consolmagno Sj , were toasting the health of the new Pope – when we were joined by a very enthusiastic Argentinian Postgrad.  It was a wonderful surprise - as he knew Cardinal Bergogolio when he worked for the Bishops Conference in Argentina  - so we were all delighted to hear his story.

How I met Pope Francis by Milan C Jelic

milanA year ago, I had the intention to speak with father Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio about the political party some friends and I were trying to create (and still working on it) in the City of Buenos Aires in Argentina. The party is not a religious party but since I am Catholic I wanted some kind of advice from such a wise man. So I contacted a friend in common and asked him to help me set up a meeting. My friend asked Cardinal Bergoglio and gave me his e-mail . Some days after I wrote an e-mail asking for the meeting, my mobile phone rang  and the person calling said he was ‘Father Mario’. I was standing on the bus, hanging on to the bars  and thinking on other issues, and didn’t realise who was calling.

I would never imagine the Cardinal Primate of Argentina would call himself on the phone, without using a secretary.  So I answered: Who? He replied, Father Mario Bergoglio. Then I said, Oh! I don’t know what to say. Well, you’ve asked for a meeting, haven’t you? He replied… Finally I had my meeting with him. We talked about political philosophy, ontology, Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church and according to it how the Christians should participate in social life. It was a very interesting experience and I remember that meeting as one of the most important ones I have ever had.

Milan’s story reminds me of the interview given by the receptionist of the Jesuit Curia in Rome – who received a similar phone call from -now – Pope Francis . Watch below………….


Pope SJ

images AMDG

I’ve decided to bring the blog out of slumber because of the exciting events of this week.  None of us ever expected to see a Jesuit Pope. When St Ignatius founded us in the 16th Century – he diagnosed that one of the biggest problems in the church was clerical ambition i.e. the unseemly desire that priests had for power and influence within the church.  A bishopric in those times often had significant wealth attached to it.  This clerical ambition was often a proxy for greed and a channel for corruption.  So Jesuits were banned from seeking status or office in the church.  When we take our final vows – as well as the four public vows there are private vows which are taken in the sacristy afterwards, often only witnessed by the provincial and your Jesuit brothers.  One of those vows is not to seek for positions of power and influence in the church, followed by a vow to inform on any other Jesuit who you suspect of seeking office within the church. The fact that we are meant to ‘rat on’ our brothers shows how seriously Ignatius took it.  In 1603 – when St Robert Bellarmine was named a Cardinal, the first Jesuit to be so honoured,  Fr General Acquaviva wrote a letter to the whole Society, making it clear that both he & Fr. Bellarmine had left nothing undone to prevent the latter’s Cardinalate.    However under Holy obedience to the Pope, and for greater service of the church, the Pope can insist that a Jesuit must become a bishop or cardinal. This  is what happened to Cardinal Bergoglio.

proxyWhen Pope Francis appeared on the balcony on Weds evening – we were all squashed around the television with a group of excited students.  When we realised we had the first Jesuit Pope – all the Jesuits in the room panicked! Whereas our students broke out in spontaneous applause – which was lovely. It has been lovely to get so many messages of congratulations from friends, and see how proud our associates are – but I still feel slightly anxious.  When the flak starts and the attacks come – it is very difficult not to take it personally – and the worst attacks and often most uncharitable can come from within the church!  However it was lovely to have an Argentinian Student with us who is doing postgraduate political studies. He told us how he had met the Cardinal in Beunos Aires last year.  He was on the tram when he got a phone call – the voice at the other end said – its Father Mario here.  Our student was amazed that he had phoned directly – no secretary – and also that he had called himself simply Father Mario. This humility and simplicity could be a very important impulse for renewal in te Church.

130313-bergoglio-bio-04a.ss_fullAnd what a Job he has – as Schumpter said in the Economist before the election this week, ‘The Roman Catholic church is the world’s oldest multinational. It is also, by many measures, its most successful, with 1.2 billion customers, 1m employees, tens of millions of volunteers, a global distribution network, a universally recognised logo, unrivalled lobbying clout and, auguring well for the future, a successful emerging-markets operation’  Pope Francis will not be a CEO, more is expected of him – lets keep him in our prayers. It’s  a testament to efficacy of the Holy Spirit that even now in an age of vatileaks and social media – the Spirit working is still capable of confounding our expectations and our calculations.

Visit of a Nobel Nominee


How do you get nominated for a Nobel Prize? ….. It’s not often you have the opportunity to ask that question – but I was able to do that here in the Edinburgh community to one of our visitors.  Fr John Dear SJ, is talking tonight at the Festival of Spirituality and Peace, part of the Edinburgh Festival.  He is a peace activist and writer.  He was not only nominated for a Nobel Prize, but for the big one – the Nobel Peace Prize, by none other than a former recipient – Desmond Tutu from South Africa.  Such a nomination is good for your publicity of course, and Festival organisers like to use it to get the crowds in, but what impresses me about John is that he doesn’t just do the big gigs, he also goes into schools and churches to promote his work.  In fact looking at his schedule he is going to be at Greenbelt, Birmingham,  Wigan, York, Sunderland, Garforth and London over the next ten days.

According to his resume he has been arrested over 85 times, including spending months in jail.  This seems to be part of the CV of a serious peace activist  following the tradition of non-violent action.  One of the most haunting experiences of his life was working as a Red Cross chaplain in response to the Sep 11 attacks, and then afterwards as one of the coordinators of the network of chaplains who followed up on a medium-long term basis by visiting the families of the victims.  He has just written a new book – ‘ Lazarus -Come Forth’ (his 28th book!) which is a reflection on working as a peace activist in the ‘Culture of Death’.  John Paul II coined the phrase ‘Culture of Life’ when he visited the US for World Youth Day in 1993, the Culture of Death is everything that opposes the sanctity of life including unjust war capital punishment and also abortion, euthanasia.  There has been a lot written about this in Catholic circles, especially in America where it is often used in the  rhetoric of the Culture Wars.  What I am very interested in is the development of analysis which looks at the growth of  narcissism, excessive selfishness and sometimes even sadistic humiliation that could be seen as underpinning a culture of death.  I don’t know whether this is addressed in John’s new book – I’ll have to read it and find out!

If you are interested in listening to Fr John Dear during his tour of the UK – here is a link to his web page which has details of venues, times and contacts.   Click Here 


The Jesuit community here in Edinburgh is full to bursting this August as many guests come to stay.  Yesterday we had a very interesting arrival. Jake Martin is a Jesuit scholastic from the Chicago province, and has a week long stand up show at the Edinburgh Fringe called ‘Learning to Pray in front of the Television‘.  It has been interesting seeing the very healthy congregations here swell a little bit during the start of the festival, at communion time I have noticed a few actors, comedians and got to know a couple of producers who are all clamouring for attention during the festival. However I didn’t expect to see a Jesuit performing at the fringe – hats off to him, brave !  So I asked him to answer questions about his show – if you like the sound of it – come and support him! Or let your friends know about it (links below).

Anyway he has kindly answered three questions for us…

Why is the show called ‘learning to pray in front of the television’ ?

 Learning to Pray in Front of the Television was originally the title of a book I wrote which is being released this October, but the publishers didn’t like it as much as I did so they changed it; but when I decided to put a show up, I thought it was a great opportunity to use my awesome title.

The title fit for the book because it was a memoir (now titled What’s So Funny About Faith: A Memoir at the Intersection of Holy and Hilarious, Loyola Press) and I felt it summed up my childhood and the influence the media had on my faith development.  The show, on the other hand is part fiction, with some autobiographical parts, but television and the media still play a strong role in it.  As a matter of fact, the format of the show is set-up like a reality show, American Idol to be precise, (I know the UK had Pop Idol and The X Factor before it, but I’m a dumb American so American Idol is all I know) and the audience will vote at the end of the show as to whether or not I should be ordained a priest.

Jake Martin SJ – First Jesuit on the fringe?

Maybe you are the first ‘religious’ or Jesuit standup on the fringe what would you like to achieve?

I didn’t know I was the first Jesuit at the Fringe (and if I’m the first Jesuit, then I’m probably the first ‘religious’ period, since we always seem to be the first to move outside of the boundaries of the conventional religious.  I don’t have huge goals for the Fringe other than to hopefully perform for more than two people a night.  The important thing for me has already been done: I wrote a piece that I’m proud of and has a very particular point of view on faith and culture.

Who or what has inspired you to do this?

I did comedy back in Chicago for years and I always heard about the Fringe, it’s a huge deal to go in the States, but, of course, it costs a lot of money and it’s not exactly convenient time wise.  Two years ago I was finally able to attend with a group of high school students who were performing as a part of the American High School Theatre Fest which coincides with the Fringe and I just fell in love with the event.  It’s truly like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.  For an artist–especially a performing artist–it’s nirvana (I’m aware of the irony of that statement) and the sense of community and expression are remarkably life affirming.  It was an incredibly spiritual experience for me. I vowed (yes very religious-y phrasing I know) that I would someday come back and do my own show.  This year just happened to be the year that I got my act together and was able to get here.

Find out more about him in this Huffington Post article – click here

To book tickets for Jakes show – click here

Michael Phelps’s Goggles


Some of the most powerful images for me so far in the Olympics have been in the pool.  The rapid turn over of races, the excitement and the beauty of some of the slow-mo’s is quite gripping. The commentary and punditry on the BBC is also top-class. The other day we were told how Michael Phelps, now the most decorated Olympian of all times, trains using his imagination. In a previous games he had won a gold medal in a race in spite of his goggles leaking.  Obviously this would seriously affect your vision and could upset your concentration. When so many races are won by hundredths of seconds how did he cope with this distraction and still win?  We were told that his training covered all bases including this eventuality. In fact a key part of his training was to use the power of his imagination, and totally immerse himself in the race-day atmosphere. He trains to hear, feel, the water. the atmosphere with incredible detail – so that when something unexpected happens, i.e. leaky goggles, it has no disruption and those vital split-seconds aren’t lost.  I was watching this with two other Jesuits, and as he said this, we all turned to one another and simultaneously said ‘Composition of Place’ .

‘Composition of Place’ is a technique that Ignatius uses in his imaginative contemplations and we are trained in.  When you enter a contemplation, usually from a scene in the Gospel, you imagine yourself in the scene, either as a bystander or a protagonist. You ‘apply the senses’ so that you can smell, hear, see as much detail in your imagination as possible.  This allows a deep entry into the contemplation and often ends up in a conversation or a ‘colloquy’ with Christ, or whoever is in the scene.  The power of  ‘visualisation’ is often banded about, ‘visualising success’ etc – and I think a lot of it is nonsense and can lead to complacency, as sense of entitlement and under achievement.  However Phelps was using ‘composition of place’ as part of an incredibly thorough preparation.  Surely a coincidence? Well maybe not – yesterday I was sent this article from an American journal the Catholic Review – called  ‘Jesuit schools influence Olympic Swimmingclick here.  Written before the Beijing Games – the gist of it is, that the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC), where Phelps began training and has now returned to was created by two alumni from Loyola Blakefield, Towson, and then Loyola College in Maryland. The article suggests that the rigor applied by their Jesuit education is reflected in the training environment that has turned Phelps into what most experts agree is the greatest swimmer of all time. “The Jesuit schools thought that they were more mentally and physically up to the task than some of the competition,” said founder Murray Stephens,  “We were dedicated to the sense of skill and hard repetition that it took to master something.”  The motto of the NBAC :

The awards of youth are soon forgotten, but the qualities learnt through the disciplined pursuit of excellence will last a lifetime. 

Who said spirituality wasn’t practical?

P.S. Whilst I am on the Jesuit educated swimmers theme – Missy Franklin (Regis Jesuit High School, Denver) also seems to be doing well – and claims that her Kairos retreat experience early this year was one of the best experiences of her life  click here


Today is a special day for Jesuits and friends all over the world. It is the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola.  It will be celebrated in thousands of schools, universities, parishes, retreat houses, refugee camps, radio stations, tv studios, publishing houses, blogs …… Ignatius of course was the founder of the Society of Jesus.  He wrote more letters than anyone in the sixteenth century, we still have over 7000 of them, so we know a lot about him. In an age when hagiographys were written about saints, often distancing us from a frank history of religious figures by the desire to create pious and edifying stories, Ignatius’ autobiography, reluctantly dictated as his life was ebbing away, is refreshing for its simplicity, honesty and desire to show how had grown through mistakes and failures. Last year, whilst I was in Manila on ‘tertianship’ which is like a renewal year for us Jesuits – I took the opportunity to read what I consider to be the best book about him  I have read.  Written by a Basque Historian, Jose Ignacio Tellechea Idigoras and called ‘The Pilgrim Saint‘. Idigoras, not a Jesuit but an award winning Historian, has an incredible amount of detail to hand and weaves it in with the background information to create a warm and compelling portrait of this great man.

If I was to be asked to sum up what Ignatius could teach us normal folk, struggling with faith or even outside the church, it would be by looking at the contrast between his early life and his later life. Ignatius as a young man was very unpleasant – arrogant, vain, promiscuous and violent,  being brought up in the spiritually toxic climate of the ambitious courtier desiring power, influence and conquests (political and sexual).  A little bit like our cult of celebrity today.  When his life was shattered along with his leg at the Battle of Pamplona, the lengthy convalescence forced a period of extensive introspection.  He didn’t like what he saw and opened his heart to God.  So as Idigoras masterfully put it – as well as reconstructing his disjointed leg, he began to reconstruct his disjointed soul.  In order to reconstruct we need something to build on.  From the chaos of Ignatius’s life of excess and disorder there were three things he could cling on to. 1)When he looked at his hands he could take comfort that he never engaged in pillaging as a soldier when the opportunity arose, a fact that was well known and respected. 2) When he considered his mouth,  he never once blasphemed even in the extreme pain after Pamplona. 3) Although he had enemies who had pursued him through the courts and sought his arrest after some of his outrageous actions, he didn’t carry any hatred in his heart. Perhaps this was the most important thing he could cling on to, as it is the heart where God slowly and silently can change us. And so began the long. slow journey back into God’s grace which bore has born so much fruit down the centuries.  By the end of his life God had achieved much through him, at the time of his death there were 1036 Jesuits, 11 provinces, 92 houses, 33 colleges at his death.  Idigoras leaves us with this beautiful portrait of the elderly Ignatius.

He wore a simple austere cassock and fought off the cold with a large cloak.  When he left the house he wore a voluminous cape and a broad brimmed hat with attached chords that he tied to his chin. It was impressive to see him walking in the street. He was always going, because of some business, to some specific place or to see some particular person. At this period in his life his fair hair had disappeared, he was bald and wore a short beard from which loomed an aquiline nose and high cheekbones.  His complexion had become darker, weather-beaten, perhaps even yellowish because of his liver ailment? His countenance, serious and peaceful, was the image of circumspection and a life lived interiorly. Some found it particularly luminous and expressive. His eyes which at one time had been sparkling and bright were now blurred by work, old age and copious tears. They had lost their gaiety but not their penetrating force. He seldom looked at people straight on.  When he did, however, people said he took in the person from head to toe. His gaze seemed to have the power of seeing straight through a person right into his heart. 


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