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An exemplary icon of steadfast dedication to those in need is no more. Father Frans van der Lugt was abducted, shot and killed this morning in Homs, Syria, the city and country that was his home for more than four decades. The Dutch Jesuit priest did not think of leaving his home and the community he was a part of – consisting not only of the few Christians in the city, but also, especially in later years, of his Muslim neighbours in the widest sense – as civil war engulfed Syria and cut off the part of Homs where Fr. Frans lived from the rest of the world.
Thousands of people in this pocket continue to struggle with hunger and poverty, something that Fr. Frans tried to alleviate in the ways he could. He brought the attention of the wider world to their plight and managed to get what little food there was – some of which he grew – out to the families who needed it.
In February, he illustrated the situation to a Dutch journalist as follows: “In the morning we eat a few olives. We cut vegetables out from between street tiles and make soup out of it in the afternoon and in the evening we see what’s left.”
A month earlier, he made the following emergency call:
“I am speaking to you from the old and besieged city of Homs. One of our greatest problems is hunger. There is nothing to eat. There is nothing worse than to see people in the streets looking for something to eat for their children.”
Do you think that the world will do something or will everyone watch while we die?
“That is impossible. It is impossible that we suffer while the world does nothing. Not only the world has to do something, but we all have to as well. Otherwise we will die. We do not want to die from pain and hunger.”
Father Frans did not see the world stop watching and doing nothing. He took but one side, the side of the people and their needs to live. That was not a side of guns and bombs, violence and war, but of faith, community and fraternal love. He was fighting the people’s hunger and insanity that comes with it, as well as the world’s impotence in doing anything about it. For that he apparently had to die.
“The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself. Indeed, “only in adoration can a profound and genuine reception mature. And it is precisely this personal encounter with the Lord that then strengthens the social mission contained in the Eucharist, which seeks to break down not only the walls that separate the Lord and ourselves, but also and especially the walls that separate us from one another.” 
“The bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). In these words the Lord reveals the true meaning of the gift of his life for all people. These words also reveal his deep compassion for every man and woman.
Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become “bread that is broken” for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis, N. 66 and 88.
These words about the value of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI open a prayer card issued by the Dutch bishops on the occasion of the Feast of Corpus Christi, this June 2nd. This year the day will be marked with a worldwide Holy Hour of Adoration, as called for by Benedict XVI as he opened the Year of Faith. The power of prayer before the physical Lord should never be underestimated, but a simultaneous effort should be truly significant.
The prayer card continuous with a Gospel passage that reflects this same unified nature of the Church:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are clean already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch — and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for whatever you please and you will get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and be my disciples. I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.
Gospel of John 15:1-11
Finally, a short prayer by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, perhaps chosen not entirely by coincidence, as he is the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit Order of which Pope Francis was a member:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.
Suscipe, St. Ignatus of Loyola
 Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia (22 December 2005): AAS 98 (2006), 45.
Photo credit:  AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito
Apart from the background, the shield of Pope Francis’ coat of arms is the same as the one he used as archbishop of Buenos Aires. Such displays of heraldry offer a hint at a person’s identity and priorities, and so it is with the Holy Father.
The sun with the logo ‘IHS’ refers to the Jesuit Order, to which Pope Francis belonged. The two lower emblems, the star and the spikenard flower (so not a bunch of grapes) refer to the Blessed Virgin and her spouse, Saint Joseph. Both saints rejoice in a special devotion of Pope Francis.
The motto underneath the shield is also unchanged: “miserando atque eligendo” comes from the holy Venerable Bede’s homily on St. Matthew’s calling by Christ. Rather longer in English, the Latin phrase means “Because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him”. This fits quite well with how we have come to know Pope Francis. No matter what we do or who we are, Christ chooses us because He regards us with mercy and that is a transformative act. Divine mercy makes us worthy to answer the Lord’s call.
The mitre and keys behind the shield are symbols of the power and duties of the papacy. Following Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis is the second pope to not feature the papal tiara on his coat of arms.
As the enthusiasm, even in the secular media, for Pope Francis hasn’t much waned since his election, here are some interesting facts about the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church.
First of all there is his choice of name. No other Pope before him was called Francis. The last time a Pope chose a name that had not been used before was in 1978, when Pope John Paul I was elected, although he chose a combination of two existing names. For a fully new name, we have to go back to 913, when Pope Lando started his reign of less than a year. Unlike John Paul I, Pope Francis does not have a “I” after his name, since there is no other Pope Francis in past or present to confuse him with. John Paul I did add the “I” to indicate that he was neither John XIV or Paul VII.
Pope Francis is also the first Pope from the Jesuit order. The last Pope to come from a religious order was Leo XIII in 1878. He was a Secular Franciscan. The last Pope to have made public religious vows was Gregory XVI in 1831, who was a Camaldolese monk.
Pope Francis’ age is only slightly noteworthy. At 76, he is two years younger than Benedict XVI was at his election. In fact, he is the second-oldest Pope since Blessed John XXIII, who was some 7 months older at his election. In general, Popes have rarely been in their 70s when elected. The aforementioned John XXIII, Benedict XVI and Francis are among them, but the next one we encounter if we go back in history is Pope Clement XII, who was 78 when he was elected in 1730.
As has been widely reported, Pope Francis is the first Pope to hail from the New World. None before him have come, as he himself put it in his first public words after his election, “from the ends of the earth”. The last Pope from outside Europe was St. Gregory III in 731. He came from what is now Syria. Pope Francis is the third Pope in a row from outside Italy, although he does have Italian roots.
Lastly, in the style of my earlier overview of modern conclaves:
12-13 March 2013: 115 cardinals elected Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as Pope Francis. The election took 5 ballots.
Photo credit: l’Osservatore Romano
In the weeks around Pentecost there will once again be ordinations of new priests and one deacon in several dioceses in the Netherlands. This year’s tally stands at 10 for three dioceses and two religious congregations. All but one will be ordained in 2 June. The exception is Bart Beckers (47), who will be ordained for the Society of Jesus by Bishop Jan van Burgsteden, emeritus auxiliary, in the church of St. Francis Xavier in Amsterdam, the first time that church sees a priestly ordination.
In that same Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, on 2 June, Bishop Jos Punt will ordain Deacons Peter Piets (44) and Jim Schilder (55), who will be diocesan priests, and Theo van Adrichem (57), who will be a transitional deacon for the Franciscans.
In the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans will ordain Deacons Patrick Kuis (27) and Geoffrey de Jong (31).
In the Diocese of Roermond, Bishop Frans Wiertz will ordain Deacons Rick Blom (30), George Dölle (52), Jan Geilen (54) and Patrick Zuidinga (40).
All ordinations, except that of Bart Beckers, will take place in the cathedrals of the respective dioceses. God willing, I’ll be at the ordinations in ‘s Hertogenbosch. Expect some photos here afterwards.
Photo credit: IKON
In a hospital just north of Copenhagen, Bishop Hans Ludvig Martensen passed away two days ago at noon, at the age of 84. Bishop Martensen was the second bishop of Copenhagen, the only Danish diocese, which covers the entire country plus Greenland, since it was elevated to a diocese in 1953.
Bishop Martensen was a native son of Copenhagen, where he was born in 1927. In 1945, he joined the Jesuit Order. At the age of 29, he was ordained to the priesthood. In 1965, Pope Paul VI appointed him as bishop of Copenhagen, a position he would hold for exactly thirty years. On the 30th anniversary of his appointment, 22 March 1995, Bishop Martensen resigned for health reasons. He held honorary doctorates from the Loyola University in Chicago and the universities of Bonn and Copenhagen.
An expert on ecumenism, something of a necessity in strongly Protestant Denmark, Bishop Martensen was a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the join working committee between the Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
The funeral will take place on 17 March from the Cathedral of St. Ansgar. Bishop Martensen will lie in state tomorrow afternoon and evening, when visitors may pay their respects.
Photo credit: Peter Kristensen, Kristeligt Dagblad
The upcoming consistory’s 22-name list will not be complete on the 18th of this month. One of the 22 new cardinals won’t be travelling down to Rome for reasons of ill health. Father Karl Josef Becker, the 83-year-old German theologian and consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will be created a cardinal at a private ceremony at some later date.
Father Becker has long been a confidante of Pope Benedict XVi, from back when the latter, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fr. Becker also participated in the negotiations with the SSPX about their return to Rome.
As a Jesuit priest he will most likely also request dispensation from being consecrated a bishop before his elevation to cardinal. Of the three future cardinals who are not bishops yet – Fr. Becker, Fr. Julien Ries and Fr. Prosper Grech – only the latter will be consecrated a bishop, and appointed as titular Archbishop of San Leone. This will take place on 8 February. The exact nature of Fr. Becker’s health concerns have not been revealed.
Source: Radio Vatikan.