Pope Francis at the Restoration Thanksgiving

Last Saturday, 27 September 2014, Pope Francis presided over a Liturgy of Thanksgiving at the Church of the Gesù in Rome. The service marked the 200th anniversary of the Universal Re-establishment of the Society of Jesus, which took place on 7 August 1814 with the Bull of Pius VII Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum.

Since his election as Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Jesuit to ascend to the throne of Peter, has visited the Gesù, the mother church of the Jesuits, on 31 July 2013, (the Feast of St Ignatius) and on 3 January this year for a Thanksgiving Mass for the canonisation of Pierre Favre, one of the first companions of Ignatius. Then, during his visit to the Centro Astalli for refugees on 10 September 2013, the Pope paused at the tomb of Pedro Arrupe, former General of the Jesuits, buried in the same church.

The simple Liturgy of Thanksgiving at  the weekend, which was reserved to Jesuits and few close lay collaborators, was held in a 'family' atmosphere. A highly symbolic moment was when seven lamps brought the lamps from different continents were placed in front of the icon of the Madonna della Strada. This is an image to which St Ignatius and his first companions prayed and whose intercession was sought by Fathers and Brothers leaving for missions at the service of the Gospel in many parts of the world. Six of the seven lamps represent the Jesuit world Conferences: Africa and Madagascar, Latin America, South Asia, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the USA; the seventh represents the General Curia of the Society of Jesus. 

The Great Mission of the Jesuits

In his address at the Service, Pope Francis urged Jesuits to remember their history: "The ship of the Society has been tossed around by the waves and there is nothing surprising in this," he told them. "Even the boat of Peter can be tossed about today." Quoting Pius VII's Bull, Sollecitudo omnium ecclesiarum, he said they need to  be "brave and expert rowers"  and must continue to have faith in the Lord and to pray.Pope Francis at Restoration Thanksgiving Liturgy

"The Society, reconstituted by my predecessor Pius VII, was made up of men, who were brave and humble in their witness of hope, love and apostolic creativity, that of the Spirit," said the Pope. Once re-established in 1814, it was immediately missionary, made itself available to the Apostolic See and to the service of the Holy Father, and "resumed its apostolic activity of preaching and teaching, spiritual ministries, scientific research and social action, the missions and care for the poor, the suffering and the marginalised."

"Today," he went on, "the Company also deals with the tragic problem of refugees and displaced persons with intelligence and industriousness; and it strives with discernment to integrate service to faith and the promotion of justice in conformity with the Gospel. I confirm today what Paul VI told us at our 32nd General Congregation and which I heard with my own ears: 'Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme situations, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, where there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, there you have been and there are Jesuits.'"

Pope Francis concluded by reflecting that although the number of Jesuits was small In 1814, they knew "how to invest, after the test of the cross, in the great mission of bringing the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is how we must feel today therefore: outbound, in mission. The Jesuit identity is that of a man who loves God and loves and serves his brothers, showing by example not only that in which he believes, but also that in which he hopes, and who is the One in whom he has put his trust. The Jesuit wants to be a companion of Jesus, one who has the same feelings of Jesus."

In his brief speech, Father General Adolfo Nicolás thanked the Pope and renewed the Society's availability to serve the Church and her Vicar, the Supreme Pontiff. At the end of the celebration, Pope Francis symbolically entrusted the Book of the Gospels to Father Nicolás, reaffirming him in the mission to preach the word of salvation to the whole world.

The full text of Pope Francis' address at the Liturgy of Thanksgiving.

Main photo: Pope Francis entrusts the Book of the Gospels to Fr Nicolás (Roy Sebastian Nellipuzhayil SJ)