Pope Francis: A Prime Example of Jesuit Virtue

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Macintosh / AP

Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on March 13, 2013.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first Jesuit to be elected Pope. If you don’t know what a Jesuit is, take a brief look at Bergoglio’s life, because he has made efforts to personify the order’s virtues: humility, education, and social justice.

In Buenos Aires, Pope Francis, as he will now be known, gave up the archbishop’s palace and chauffeured limousine for a simple apartment and the city bus. The man, even at 76, cooked his own meals. To many, he was simply, “Father Jorge.” Jesuit priests take a vow of poverty, and Cardinal Bergoglio took his seriously.

Pope Francis is “an accomplished intellectual,” according to the National Catholic Reporter, playing a “leading role during the Argentine economic crisis” as a “potent symbol of the costs globalization can impose on the world’s poor.” In the 1960s, he taught literature and psychology before turning to theological studies and becoming a priest. He then returned to teach at Jesuit schools and stayed close to the local Catholic university in San Miguel even when he became an auxiliary bishop in the 1990s.

(MORE: Habemus Papam: Francis, the First Pope from the Western Hemisphere)

Jesuits have run schools almost since their inception in the middle of the 16th century, and now teach 2.5 million students through 3,730 educational institutions around the globe.  According to Rev. Kevin O’Brien, Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Georgetown, Jesuits “control the largest (religious) system of education in the world today.”

The cornerstone of Jesuit thought, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, are a compilation of meditations and prayers to help people deepen their relationship with God. St. Ignatius grew up as a court playboy until his leg was crushed in battle by a cannon ball. While recuperating in a hospital, he would fantasize about women, or read the only books available to him — the Bible and another on saints. He found he was more at peace thinking about Jesus than women and, after he was fully recuperated, spent a month in a cave to focus on his new relationship with Christ. Ignatius would later write the Spiritual Exercises — a 30-day program, or one hour daily over nine months, reflecting with a spiritual director Ignatian meditations and key Scripture passages. The three phrases instilled in every Jesuit child — Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (“For the Greater Glory of God”), Cura Personalis (“Care of the Whole Person”) and “Finding God in All Things” — are three of the conclusions reached after the Spiritual Exercises.

(WATCHTIME Video: How Pope Francis Was Elected)

As the largest Catholic order, the Jesuits already have a great deal of influence within the faith, but that may not translate into a broad reformist mission for Pope Francis. As Rev. O’Brien says, “The Jesuits were founded to serve the Catholic Church. We’re never separate from it.” Cardinal Bergoglio holds true to party doctrine, criticizing an Argentine proposal in 2006 legalizing abortion under certain circumstances. Despite his unique background — he’s also the first Pope from the Americas — those who wish for Pope Francis to stray from the established position on issues of gay marriage and abortion will most likely be sorely disappointed.

But it will be interesting to see how Pope Francis’ background defines his future. Rev. O’Brien, while believing “it’s about time” for there to be a Jesuit Pope, realizes that the cardinals “choose the man, not the religious order.” Still, Pope Francis’s vocation to the Society of Jesus has affected his personal life, from his simplicity to his work in education.  Now we will see how he will lead the 1.2 billion faithful of the Catholic Church.

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