Congregation Visits Pontiff
On February 21, 2008, members of the General Congregation were received by the Holy Father Benedict XVI in a special audience. On behalf of the Society, Superior General Nicolás offered the following words:
Most Holy Father,
I would like my first word to be, in my name and in the name of all present, a heartfelt “thank you” to Your Holiness for kindly receiving today the members of the General Congregation meeting in Rome, after having already bestowed on us the precious gift of a Letter which by way of its rich content and its positive tone, encouraging and affectionate, has most surely been appreciated by the whole Society of Jesus.
Gratitude, indeed, and a strong sense of communion in feeling confirmed in our mission to work at the frontiers where faith and science, faith and justice, and faith and knowledge, confront each other, and in the challenging field of serious reflection and responsible theological research. We are grateful to Your Holiness to have been once more encouraged to follow our Ignatian tradition of service right where the Gospel and the Church suffer the greatest challenges, a service which at times also lends itself to the risk of disturbing a peaceful lifestyle, reputation and security. For us it is a cause of great consolation to note that Your Holiness is more than aware of the dangers that such a commitment exposes to us.
Holy Father, I would like to return once again to the kind and generous Letter which you sent to my predecessor Fr. Kolvenbach and through him to all of us. We have received it with an open heart, meditated on it, reflected on it, we have exchanged our reflections, and we are determined to carry its message and its unconditional words of welcome and acceptance to the whole Society of Jesus.
We wish moreover to convey the spirit of such a message to all our formation structures and to create – taking the message as our starting point – opportunities for reflection and discussion which will enable us to assist our confrères engaged in research and in service.
Our General Congregation, to which Your Holiness has given Your paternal encouragement, is looking, in prayer and in discernment, for the ways through which the Society can renew its commitment to the service of the Church and of humanity.
What inspires and impels us is the Gospel and the Spirit of Christ: if the Lord Jesus was not at the centre of our life we would have no sense of our apostolic activity, we would have no reason for our existence. It is from the Lord Jesus we learn to be near to the poor and suffering, to those who are excluded in this world.
The spirituality of the Society of Jesus has as its source the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. And it is in the light of the Spiritual Exercises – which in their turn inspired the Constitutions of the Society – that the General Congregation is in these days tackling the subjects of our identity and of our mission. The Spiritual Exercises, before becoming a precious tool for the apostolate, are for the Jesuit the touchstone by which to judge our own spiritual maturity.
In communion with the Church and guided by the Magisterium, we seek to dedicate ourselves to profound service, to discernment, to research. The generosity with which so many Jesuits work for the Kingdom of God, even to giving their very lives for the Church, does not mitigate the sense of responsibility that the Society feels it has in the Church. Responsibility that Your Holiness confirms in Your Letter, when You affirm: “The evangelizing work of the Church therefore relies a lot on the formative responsibility that the Society has in the fields of theology, spirituality and mission”.
Alongside the sense of responsibility, must go humility, recognizing that the mystery of God and of man is much greater than our capacity for understanding.
It saddens us, Holy Father, when the inevitable deficiencies and superficialities of some among us are at times used to dramatize and represent as conflicts and clashes what are often only manifestations of limits and human imperfections, or inevitable tensions of everyday life. But all this does not discourage us, nor quell our passion, not only to serve the Church, but also, with a deeper sense of our roots, according to the spirit of the Ignatian tradition, to love the hierarchical Church and the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ.
“En todo amar y servir”. This represents a portrait of who Ignatius is. This is the identity card of a true Jesuit.
And so we consider it a happy and significant circumstance that our meeting with You occurs on this particular day, the vigil of the Feast of the Chair of St Peter, a day of prayer and of union with the Pope and His highest service of universal teaching authority. For this we offer You our good wishes. And now, Holy Father, we are ready and willing, to listen and attend to what You have to say to us.
(translated from the original Italian)