Interviewed on March 7
by Fr Kallapurackal Sunny
in Papal Seminary, Pune
There are now more than 17000 Jesuits in 112 nations in the ministry of the Way of Jesus. Your first priority is “To show the way to God through discernment and the Spiritual Exercises.” What does it mean in a multi-religious and multi-cultural country like India?
All the dynamics of these Spiritual Exercises is oriented to inspire people of all traditions and cultures to work in the way of the Lord, because Jesus, who is more of a human being, became the face of God. So every religious tradition and every human tradition can work in coherence. These Spiritual Exercises or the conventional ways of exercises are not an end in themselves. They are just a human way of doing things. The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola is a privileged instrument for making the life and action of the Lord Jesus present in diverse social contexts of today’s world. Therefore, we resolve to gain a deeper experience of the Spiritual Exercises so that they lead us to a personal and communitarial encounter with Christ who transforms us. We resolve to offer the Spiritual Exercises in as many ways as possible, providing many people, especially the young, the opportunity to make use of them to begin or to advance in following Christ. We also resolve to promote discernment as a regular habit for those who choose to follow Christ and to make regular use of spiritual conversation and discernment in our implementation of the preferences at all levels of the life-mission of the Society. These spiritual exercises help us, find God in everything. First and foremost, prayer, contemplation, meditation and the Eucharist bring about our reconciliation with God. Second, alms-giving makes us aware of the ‘poor’—the millions of our sisters and brothers who are struggling to survive in a selfish world. True alms-giving means not only generously giving what we ‘have’ but who we ‘are’—a self-giving to people. It reconciles us with all of humankind. Third, fasting creates an awareness of God’s generosity through the gifts of nature. We voluntarily deprive ourselves of food and detach ourselves from the many comforts and goods, which we have become so dependent on. Fasting could help us to be reconciled with mother earth and with all God’s creatures.
You “walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world”… “in a mission of reconciliation and justice.” How important is the issue of justice for the poor and the outcasts in our Christian vocation, you as a Venezuelan political thinker and we as Indians? How is the struggle for Justice important in Latin America and India?
I think the central theme of the Christian religion is to work with the poor. Jesus was incarnated as a poor amidst the poor. He was associated with the poor and the outcastes. He was not part of the establishment of His time. Who were with Jesus? They were all people from the peripheries. The people of the higher class or people who are socially privileged are not Jesus’ choice. The people of the peripheries, the poor and the outcastes are His choice and we must work with them. We want to do it as a community, because only then there is any meaning in talking about the Kingdom of God, His love, peace and justice. The poor must be put at the centre of humanity. In Latin America, we used to say that, to know a society, we have to see the poor in the community, the poor in the parish and those who are hospitalized. The poor is the criterion for measuring the quality of humanity. So, I think we have no choice in that sense. We must keep them. Firstly, define ourselves as poor and be part of the process to do justice to the poor. We confirm our commitment to care for migrants, displaced persons, refugees and victims of wars and human trafficking. We resolve to defend the culture and the dignified existence of indigenous peoples too.
The Church has been criticised sometimes for being with the rich and the powerful, sidelining the poor. How can we face that criticism?
Yes, there is always that tension in the Church, because it is very difficult to be remain focused on the poor. The preferential option for the poor is very inclusive; it excludes no one. We desire, first and foremost, a conversion in our own hearts. It will make us alive and sensitive to the suffering of Christ in our midst. It will make our communities desire to be more hospitable and open, learning how to live more deeply in the Spirit of Jesus, a Spirit that welcomes. A Jesuit vocation is nothing but a human commitment to help people, especially poor people, people who lack opportunities, people who lack the information and skills that are need to make a better living.
In the present context, the Catholic Church is shaken by scandals of child abuse. What do they tell the Church?
We ask the Lord to accompany us in the face of the suffering caused by so many abuses and in a genuine process of personal and institutional conversion. We need to promote a consistent culture of protection and safety for minors and for adults in situations of vulnerability. Our way of proceeding links us in a special way with the Holy Father for the greater service of the Church. For our part, let us do everything possible to collaborate in healing this situation in the Church. The Church’s aim will be to hear, watch over, protect and care for the abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are. Let us embrace with openness and creativity the invitation to prayer and penance given us as members of the People of God. Fasting and prayer may open our ears to the hushed up pain felt by children, young people and the disabled. A fasting that makes us hunger and thirst for justice and impels us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary. We have to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, for combatting all forms of abuse, sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience. Remedy for it is a process that begins with listening to the victims to understand their position. Secondly, try to provide justice, civil and canonical justice. And then, offer help to repair, to overcome the pain of it, because forgiveness means reconciliation. We need to work for social change in a practical way through change in the attitude on sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience. Jesuits promote a new culture of protection of minors and vulnerable persons. We ask the Lord to accompany us in a genuine process of personal and institutional conversion. We ask that He assist us in our efforts to promote a new culture of life in which all human beings find protection, justice, and dignity.
Do we need to have any kind of change in seminary training?
Seminarians are all supposed to abide in Jesus Christ for a mission. Accompanying young people demands of us to have authenticity of life, spiritual depth and openness in sharing the life-mission that gives meaning to who we are and what we do. First, it reminds us of the priority of the mercy of God. The risen Lord meets the eleven disciples on the mountain in Galilee to entrust His mission to them. But we must not forget, there are only 11 instead of twelve, because one, Judas, betrayed the Lord, and in fact, all the 11 abandoned Jesus during His suffering and crucifixion. The risen Lord is entrusting His mission to the weak, sinful men, who had deserted Him in His hour of need. He does not hold their failings against them, but lovingly forgives them and gives them the gift of new trust. The mission is not simply doing something, but being someone, being a companion of Jesus, someone who walks with and works with the risen Lord to bring His life and hope to the world. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus calls and sends us, not just as individuals, but as a community. Jesus entrusts His mission not to individual persons only, but to the eleven as a group. Mission in the Church is always carried out working together with others to share the Good News.
Some people are thinking of a religionless community. They agree with Christ, His teachings but not the Christian religion. They make a distinction between religion and spirituality. Is secularization a blessing or a curse? Are we moving to religionless Christianity?
It is better to have a distinction between religion and faith. Religion as a system; there are rights and wrongs. It must be dwelt with the Spirit of God. Young people and their contexts of life must be understood as a theological space from which they can listen to the Holy Spirit, as signs, secular society and the anthropological transformation that flows from the digital world. The Jesuits have been interested for years in migration and recognition of the place of young people and women in the Church. In the secularization process, freedom is a condition. We are called to make free choices. To a better environment, we get a new evangelization. Our preferences seek to unleash a process of apostolic revitalization and creativity that makes us better servants of reconciliation and justice.
Pope Francis is a Jesuit. The whole world is now looking up to him. How do you see the gift of Francis?
Pope Francis is a man of the Second Vatican Council. I think it is very important to recall Second Vatican Council, which concluded in 1965. It was a historical moment for the Church. In the process of applying the spirit of Second Vatican Council, there were many obstacles, because it proposed a deep change of the model of the Church. So, when you hear attentively Pope Francis, you hear the sound of Vatican II. The Synodality and the concept of people of God is emerging through him. To harvest its fruits, we have to put the people in the centre and should go to the peripheries. Throughout his ministry, Pope Francis was influenced by Vatican II. His healing touch has come at the right time for the Church. The Church needs him at this crucial moment, but he has many enemies.
Does he have enemies inside the Church too?
The attacks against Pope Francis are directed against a particular model of the Church that he is advocating. There is an organized campaign against Pope Francis. It comes according to him from groups that see the Church as an institution that possesses and defends unquestionable dogmas and principles. The vision of the Church of Pope Francis, inherited from Vatican II, is that of a Church that is placed at the heart of the world, carrying a faith that must respond to the changing conditions of a humanity on the move. The Pope’s Church model is based on his pastoral experience in the peripheries of Latin American society. The Jesuits support this approach based on the discernment of situations of people and of the world. Many in the Church are not happy with the Pope. Many are not happy with the Council’s proposals. Many are really fearful. But Pope Francis proceeds ahead relying on his spiritual roots. In this crucial moment, he is a Pope who leads the Church in the midst of daunting problems. There are problems of war, politics and human trafficking. You can make a long list of them. It seems that all are in opposition to the Pope’s thinking. I think he has given a big service to humanity.
You are a well-known professor, rector, provincial and past holder of many other top positions. You are a son of a socialist minister. The Church has not supported socialism so far. How far and to what extent can we assimilate the principles of socialism in the Church and our priestly ministry?
I think social justice is the primary concern of socialist forces. Creating a better humanity and a better tomorrow for all is the motto of socialist thinkers. We must live coherent lives, which are deeply spiritual and open so that our lives can inspire the youth. We need to modify our lifestyles so that we can save this land, this planet, for those who come after us. This is not only a time of renewal for our institutions, social centres or for members of social apostolates. That renewal must permeate the entire church and all our partners in the mission.
You said that Jesuits should look for alternative ways to overcome poverty, inequality and oppression. What are they?
The ultimate goal of this discernment process is to receive from the hands of the Holy Father a list of preferences that will enable the Society of Jesus to better serve the world and the Church, based on its charism and resources. We are living amidst several cries, economical cry, social cry, abuses cry, and all human crises require a creative solution as response, which would require of us to imagine a different world.
What should be the spirituality of today’s priests and seminarians?
Christian spirituality is to contemplate, assimilate and believe the gospels. Let us not forget these three acts of love, and let us strive for the triple reconciliation – with God, with others, and with nature. May we be mindful of Pope Francis’s constant reminder that our God is a God of mercy.
What is the role of Christian disciples in social activism?
If you follow the vision of Pope Francis, you will surely be a Christian activist. If you contemplate the gospels, you will find how Jesus acts and will follow in His footsteps. The activist’s central place should be prayer in the way he lives his life of service. Look at, whom Jesus embraced, who His companions are. That matters a lot. As companions of Christ on a mission of reconciliation and justice, my prayer for you is that you continue, being lights amidst the darkness of selfishness and sin.