Pope to Jesuits in Athens: ‘Be Fathers and Not Bosses’

The Holy Father Met with the Jesuit Community in Athens, during His Apostolic Journey to Greece

Be Fathers and Not Bosses
Meeting with members of the Society of Jesus in Athens © Vatican Media

Pope Francis said to the Jesuits in Athens: “Be Fathers and not bosses,” it’s necessary “to do things well and then retire.” As usual in his Apostolic Journeys, the Pontiff met with his Brothers of the Society of Jesus in Greece, a group of seven Jesuits of the Athens community. On Saturday, December 4, 2021, at the end of the first day of his visit to the Hellenic country, the Holy Father received them in the Apostolic Nunciature around 6:45 pm. Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., who accompanied the Pope on the trip, reported the conversation in full in the Jesuit Review La Civilta Cattolica.

According to the Review, he greeted those present personally and then held a one-hour conversation with them. Each one introduced himself, saying something about himself and speaking briefly with the Pontiff, who asked them to ask questions freely.

The “Keen Eye” of Brothers

 Intervening first were Father Pierre Salembier, Superior, and Jesuit Brother (not a priest) Georges Marangos, who plays the organ and is the Administrator.

The Holy Father then shared with them: “when I was Provincial, I had to ask for information for the admission of Jesuits to the Priestly Order, and I realized that the best information was given by the Brothers” as “we, priests, sometimes are abstract. The Brothers are concrete and understand well the conflicts, the difficulties: they have a keen eye.” He also stresses that “when there is talk of the ‘promotion,’ of a Brother, it’s necessary to consider that everything, including his studies, must be thought of as an instrument for his vocation, which goes well beyond the things he knows.”

Fathers, Not Bosses

 Father Pierre Chongk Tzoun-Chan, a 21-year-old Korean Jesuit, said that today he is parish priest of the Heart of Jesus Saviour parish, and Founder and collaborator of the Arrupe Center, an institute for refugee children.

“You are a founding ‘Father,” you expressed your creativity, and you know well what this Center is and what its nature and objective are,” said the Bishop of Rome, highlighting the fact that Father Pierre is no longer the head of the Center. “This is very good; when someone initiates a process, he must let it develop, the work must grow, and then he must retire. All Jesuits must do the same. No works belong to him, because they are the Lord’s.” This “is a great attitude: to do everything well and then retire, without being possessive,” as you must be “Fathers, not bosses, have a  father’s fecundity,” he continued.

He also referred to Saint Ignatius, who held that “great principles must be incarnated in the circumstances of a place, time and people. And this, thanks to discernment. A Jesuit who acts without discerning isn’t a Jesuit.”

Weakening of the Jesuit Community

 For his part, Father Sebastien Freris, 84, told him that he had carried out several pastoral endeavors in parishes and with young people, and that, in Greece, there was a time in which the community was numerous and very active, and gave much to the country. Now, he pointed out, the situation is one of “weakness.” The Jesuits “do what they can with the little strength available.

The Successor of Peter then commented “The weakening of the Society calls attention. When I entered the noviciate we were 33,000 Jesuits. How many are we today? More or less half the number. And we will continue to decrease in number. This is something happening to many Religious Orders and Congregations,” and it “means something, and we must ask ourselves what it is. In short, the Lord sends the vocation. If it doesn’t come, it doesn’t depend on us. I believe the Lord is giving us a lesson for the religious life.

Get Used to Humiliation

For Jesuits, the Holy Father said, “It has meaning in the sense of humiliation.” A “Jesuit cannot stay at the level of a sociological explanation to understand the vocational crisis. This is, at most, a half-truth. The deeper truth is that the Lord leads us to this humiliation of the numbers to open to each one the way to the “third degree of humility,” which is the only Jesuit fecundity that counts.” This “third degree of humility is the goal of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. And the Pope stressed, “we must accustom ourselves to humiliation.”

 In regard to the future of Society of Jesus, His Holiness said “we must be faithful to the Cross of Christ,” ask the Lord “what He wants from us, and thus we are creative in God: concrete challenges, concrete solutions.” And I congratulate you for your dialogue with the Orthodox. “It means you have sown well with prayer, the desires and things that you have been able to do.”

“Good Tiredness”

 Father Tonny Cornoedus, Belgian-Flemish Jesuit, worked in Morocco before, then as parish priest in Belgium and now in Greece, because a priest was needed who could speak to the refugees in French. The priest spoke of this work, an episode in which he was confused with a human trafficker and was arrested.

“A great humiliation!” stressed the Jesuit Pope in this connection. “While you were speaking, I was thinking how a Jesuit’s end should be: it <should be> to arrive at old age full of work, perhaps tired, full of contradictions, but with a smile, with the joy of work done.” This “is the great tiredness of a man who has given his life. There is an ugly, neurotic tiredness, which doesn’t help. But there is a good tiredness  (. . . ).” A Jesuit “who reaches our age and continues working, suffering contradictions without losing his smile, then becomes a song of hope.”

“As in life, also in death, a Jesuit must give witness of his following of Jesus Christ. A sowing of joy, ‘astuteness,’ and a smile is the grace of a full life. A life with sins, yes, but full of joy at the service of God,” he added.

Meaning of the Apostolic Life

 Later, Polish Father Marcin Baran, 46, appeared, who said that he is in Greece because there is a large Polish community. Although he has a Doctorate in Philosophy, he now carries out his work among simple people.

Hearing this, the Pope was moved, “You did all your studies in Philosophy, and then the Lord sent you to the Poles of Athens. This is creative indifference, which helps to go forward. This is the Jesuit vocation: you go where God shows you His Will and asks you for obedience. The Lord knows.” In the beginning, “we don’t see the meaning of our apostolic life. We see it at the end, with the wisdom of one who looks back.”

Before ending the meeting, the Superior gave Pope Francis a painting made by youths of the Jesuit Refugee Service. Finally, the Holy Father and his Jesuit Brothers prayed a Hail Mary and had a group photo taken. The Pope took his leave, greeting all of them, one by one.

Excerpts © La Civiltà Cattolica 2021

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester