The pope at the shrine of St Alberto Hurtado SJ

Pope Francis with (l) Fr Antonio Rueda de Colombia and Fr Jorge Munoz SJ
Pope Francis with (l) Fr Antonio Rueda de Colombia and Fr Jorge Munoz SJ

The Jesuits of Santiago were delighted to welcome Pope Francis to the Shrine of St Alberto Hurtado during the papal visit to Chile and Peru last week.

Alberto Hurtado was a Jesuit saint of the twentieth century beloved and revered across Chile for his dedication to the fight for justice for the poor and marginalized.

On his arrival at the Shrine, which also houses a museum of the life of the saint, the pope was asked to bless the famous “green van” which Alberto Hurtado used in his ministry.  120 fellow Jesuits were assembled at the Shrine chapel to greet Pope Francis and to pray with him first in silence and then in song at the tomb of the saint.  There followed a dialogue described by Fr Jorge Munoz SJ: “he invited us to unleash a fire which would allow us to burn with love for the most vulnerable, to move our appraoch from offering help to changing the unjust systems. He also thanked  the Society of Jesus for all its collaboration during his pontificate, and asked us to focus on discernment in these uncertain times”.

Pope Francis with the Jesuits at the tomb of St Alberto HurtadoThe Jesuits gave Pope Francis two gifts.  The first was a crucifix which had belonged to St Alberto Hurtado.  The second was a “House History”-  a reminder of the time the pope spent as a member of a Jesuit community in Santiago, presented by two Jesuits who had lived with him during that time.

After spending time with the Jesuits Pope Francis was invited to meet 400 people from marginalised groups in Chile. They included disabled people, migrants and refugees, elderly people and others suffering from poverty and disadvantage.  28 representatives joined him on the platform, and a local resident Lilian Lopez, spoke for everyone.  In the final moments of the encounter the pope shared a “sopaipilla”, a traditional Chilean bread roll, with the crowds.  Fr Munoz observed “that sopaipilla was like a bridge, an embrace, an outstretched hand. In the hands of the pope it was a sign of a shared life for all, including the poorest”.  The pope blessed the bread with the words “May the Lord bless the heart of all of us, and that which we share, teach us also to share life and heaven.”

Pope Francis with baskets of sopaipillas


Alberto Hurtado SJSt Albert Hurtado

Alberto Hurtado SJ was born in 1901 and brought up by his widowed mother in Santiago.  Always displaying outstanding ability and a magnetic personality, he studied law at the Catholic University and then joined the Jesuits.  His doctoral thesis invited to the Church to face the reality of poverty and injustice with practical intervention rather than assume good intent would suffice. His provocative 1941 book Is Chile a Catholic Country? attacked materialism and the way it aggravated the plight of the poor.  ‘Injustice’, he insisted ‘causes far more evil than can be repaired by charity’. 

Damian Howard SJ wrote in a 2011 article “he advocated and made his own the arduous tasks of reading, social analysis, planning action, establishing institutions and deepening that Ignatian contemplative regard which takes in the whole world and is free enough to see just how bad things truly are. It was the antithesis of feel-good, charitable giving, but he knew that in it he would find God.”

In 1944 he founded the influential Hogar de Christo which provides homes and support to poor and abandoned young people in Chile.  He published the journal Mensaje and in 1947 helped establish the Chilean Trade Union Association.  He died of cancer aged 51 and was  canonised by Pope benedict XVI in 2005. 

His tomb is housed in the sanctuary of Padre Hurtado in Santiago.  The centre includes a museum dedicated to his life as well as chapels and a shrine.

In London the Hurtado Jesuit Centre opened in Wapping in 2011 with three programme strands: social ministry, Ignatian spirituality, and Christian-Muslim relations. Why is it named for this Chilean saint? One aspect of Hurtado’s world – the dramatic juxtaposition of rich and poor – will strike any visitor to Tower Hamlets, London’s most deprived borough. At the most basic level there remains the same common human hunger for self-realisation and a space in which to encounter God.

The concern of the Hurtado Centre for people living and working in East London is essentially a concern for human wellbeing and development, offering intellectual and spiritual formation for both the individual and the community.