Jesuits surprised that first of their brethren is elected pope

WASHINGTON - The Jesuit brethren of the new Pope Francis were as surprised as anyone when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was announced March 13 as the first Jesuit to be elected pope.

One Jesuit, who shares the pope's Argentine roots and has known him since his own days as a novice, said the election of the man he first knew as Father Bergoglio is "a joy for the country."

Father Jose Funes, head of the Vatican Observatory, told Catholic News Service that the election of an Argentine Jesuit with a background in science (he studied chemistry at a trade school before entering the Jesuits) can only be good for all those interests. However, he said, "I think the pope will be focused on other priorities first."

Jesuit Father Gerard Stockhausen, executive secretary of the Jesuit Conference USA, told CNS that when Cardinal Bergoglio's name was announced from the Vatican balcony, he didn't realize immediately that it was a fellow member of the Society of Jesus, the religious order founded by St. Ignatius Loyola in 1534.

Jesuits generally don't seek higher offices in the church, Father Stockhausen said. "There are relatively few who are bishops even. We don't ordinarily take on those posts."

Even the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters: "Personally, I'm a bit shocked to have a Jesuit pope. Jesuits think of themselves as servants, not authorities in church."

"Jesuits resist being named bishop or cardinal. To be named pope - wow," Father Lombardi said. "Must have been result of strong call."

Father Funes, speaking from the observatory's offices in Tucson, Ariz., said the Latin Americans he knows from Mexico and Chile reacted very positively to the election of someone from Argentina.

"This could bring a new excitement for the church in Latin America," he said, "especially if he goes to Brazil for World Youth Day" in July.

Father Funes first knew the future pope during a month when his class of novices was assigned to help out at the formation house where then-Father Bergoglio was rector. He also served as one of the three examiners for Father Funes as a candidate to join the Jesuits.

He said Pope Francis has been known to have a particular devotion to St. Joseph, and founded St. Joseph Parish near the formation house where the students regularly assisted.

The Jesuit superior general, Father Adolfo Nicolas, said the election of Pope Francis "opens for the church a path full of hope."

He said in a statement that all the Jesuits accompany their brother with their prayers "and we thank him for his generosity in accepting the responsibility of guiding the church at a crucial time."

He said the choice of the name Francis "evokes for us the Holy Father's evangelical spirit of closeness to the poor, his identification with simple people and his commitment to the renewal of the church."

As Jesuits, he said the distinguishing mark of the society is that of companionship "bound to the Roman pontiff by a special bond of love and service." Thus, Father Nicolas added, the Jesuits "wish to express our renewed availability to be sent into the vineyard of the Lord."

In Dajabon, Dominican Republic, Jesuit Father Regino Martinez called it "a moment of great hope and opportunity for the church."

He said Pope Francis as the first Latin American pope also offers "an opportunity to support the work being done in the Latin American church and a show of support for Latin Americans."

Father Stockhausen said that even those Jesuits who do become cardinals "tend not to move in 'cardinal circles,' where they get to know each other. That's not our world."

He acknowledged that Jesuits are generally thought of as highly educated, and "men of the world."

There's a saying that goes "'Francis (of Assisi) loved the countryside, Dominic loved the countryside and Ignatius loved the cities,' we're 'worldly' in the good sense of the word," he said.

Jesuits also have a reputation for being careful decision-makers, particularly if they follow the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, said Father Stockhausen. The exercises lead one to make decisions not out of personal interests or attachments, he said, but out of where the Spirit is leading through prayer.

Jesuits around the world expressed similar joy and support at the election of the new pope.

Father Francisco Jose Ruiz Perez, provincial of Spain, noted that Pope Francis spent part of his training in Alcala de Henares, Spain. Like Father Nicholas, he also cited a section of the Jesuit norms, noting, "Our church service will only be truly Christian if anchored in fidelity to the one who makes all things new, and only if united with the successor of Peter."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970