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Dear Papa

9:55 AM  Sep 12th, 2013
by Michelle Tedford '94

The blue ink of the tattoo ran in unsteady lines atop a caramel-colored foot. And Pope Francis, dressed in immaculate white, got down on his knees and kissed it.

This man understands the power of symbolism. On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis again cleansed away preconceptions, extending the ritual washing of feet — a re-enactment of Christ with his Apostles — to women and non- Catholics.

“Among us the one who is highest up must be at the service of others,” he said during Mass at a Rome detention center, where he washed the feet of 12 juvenile offenders. “This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service. And we are too, among each other.”

There is something different about this pope, something felt by the thousands of youth who packed the Copacabana sands during World Youth Day celebrations and by a single UD student who cried on the phone to her Argentinian mother at the announcement of his papacy. This first Francis is also the first pope who is a Jesuit, a member of the Society of Jesus religious order whose mission and formation both forged the man and his approach to the papacy. His solidarity with the poor is obvious. More subtle are the ways this man — all the way from Rome — is influencing our lives with his call to holiness.


He is rightly called the leader of one of the largest populations on the planet: 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. And he has the ear of the world, both secular and religious. When the media want a holiday message to broad- cast, they hand the pope the mic.

“And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace,” he pro- claimed this Easter, as reported by Fox News.

What Francis says, matters. And what Francis does, matters.

Nevermind that he’s unlikely to do anything too shocking.

“Those that might expect some dramatic changes on issues like gay marriage or women’s ordination are probably going to be disappointed,” says Sandra Yocum, UD associate professor of religious studies and president of the College Theology Society. Remember, she says: He was elected by 115 other men, and all of them were appointed to their positions because of shared perspectives and agreements on fundamental church teachings. Still, his humble demeanor and words of compassion some- how feel like a change, she says.

There’s a sense of a holy sea change under way. Francis is a different kind of pope in a very powerful, symbolic way.

Have you heard the one about the pope who carried his own suitcase? Or the bishop-soon-to-be-pope who rode the bus?

“If you’re a bishop and you’re spending a half an hour on a bus, that’s a half an hour you’re not spending in a parish, you’re not in the office, you’re not doing other things,” says Father Thomas Reese, S.J., senior analyst at National Catholic Reporter. “Now that adds up after awhile. But on the other hand, that has spoken to the world, that has been a witness, that has said something to the people. And maybe that’s more important than all the half hours that he would have spent doing something else.”

During World Youth Day, much to the consternation of his body- guards, Francis shook nearly every hand and kissed nearly every baby extended to him. He extended indulgences — remission for sins after absolution — to those who followed his Twitter account (@pontifex). In the Rio de Janeiro slum of Varginha, he hugged children who waved gold and white flags. It’s an energy and accessibility unseen in 40 years.

In Brazil, Francis said, “We need saints without cassocks, without veils. We need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. … We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the Internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the Eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends.”

In that same speech, he said, “We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor and to make the needed social change.” It is his focus on the poor that, in these first months, has captured the most attention.

First, there’s his name — Francis — for the saint from Assisi reputed to have emptied his purse and traded clothes with a mendicant to beg at the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica. Then there’s the papal palace, which Pope Francis eschewed for a two-room apartment in an adjoining hostel. He replaced his papal limousine with a four-door blue Ford Focus. Gone is the bling — there’s a plastic black watch on his wrist and a silver ring on his finger.

Father James Martin, S.J., author of The Jesuit Answer to Almost Every- thing, says Pope Francis is someone who knows intuitively the value of symbol in the way Jesus did.

“So, the symbolism of moving out of the apostolic palace, the symbolism of washing the feet of Muslim youth on Holy Thursday in a detention center rather than washing feet of priests at the church of Saint John Lateran … and the symbolism of something as seemingly frivolous as the Ford Focus — people understand that.

“And like Jesus, people say he speaks with authority as a result of the way he lives.”


Poverty makes this pope different, in more ways than one.

For most of history, popes have been elevated from diocesan priests — priests who serve in a definite geographical area, a diocese. Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty.

Unless they are best-selling authors like Father Andrew Greeley, diocesan priests are unlikely to become rich. But they can earn and keep a salary. Priests of orders — including Jesuits and Marianists — do not. Poverty, Chastity and obedience are unifying oaths for memo- beers of religious orders.

So is Francis popular because he’s a Jesuit? Unlikely, says Martin.

“I don’t think the Jesuits are that well known,” he says. “That might appeal to people who know the Jesuits already. I think that he is so popular because he’s so authentic, and he’s so popular because he’s living so simply.”

Instead, it’s likely Francis commits acts we consider popular because of his Jesuit formation.

“We’re all Catholic, we’re all part of the church, but there is a little difference in style, a little difference in background, accent and nuance,” says Father David Fleming, S.M., professor at UD’s campus in Bangalore, India. “He has a pastoral sense that flows from his Jesuit style.”

Not all Jesuits have the same style or priorities. They discern their individual calling through 30-day silent retreats, during which they meditate pokies online on the Gospels and Scriptures, asking for God’s mercy and committing to serve Christ in concrete ways through their lives and actions.

These Spiritual Exercises, set forth by Society of Jesus founder Ignatius Loyola, are not just about a life’s path; they are a daily challenge. “What is God calling us to do today?” Reese asks.

Francis has demonstrated his calling to live in solidarity with the poor. This requires breaks with tradition.

“You can’t just say to him [Francis], ‘but we’ve always done it this way,’” Reese says. “Being open to the Spirit means being open to surprise and to change. He’s talked about that, about how the church is a human being changing over its lifetime, and we shouldn’t be afraid of change.”

That ability to change is also found in Jesuit history. Known as the soldiers of Christ, early Jesuit priests carried Catholicism — through evangelization and education — with them throughout Europe and as far away as Japan and Brazil. Reese says priests often traveled alone and worked within their faith and local circus- stances to discern the work to which they were called. “St. Ignatius would … write these long letters to people who were way off in Germany or the Far East, and he would give them a long list of instructions, but typically he’d always end his letters with, ‘If this doesn’t make sense in the place you are in, do what makes sense.’”

So it makes sense that Francis, in his new position, would decide to swap his ride.

The pope’s humility — something highly at- tractive to his followers — also has Jesuit roots. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Jesuits make a special vow of obedience to the pope and pledge not to seek higher office. Ignatius wanted to avoid the scourges of ambition and careerism and to prevent having his best men be picked off for service to others.

“Jesuits make a promise not to ‘strive or ambition’ for high office in the church or in the Society of Jesus,” Martin says. “We are trained not to want to desire or aim for any of those high offices. So the fact that you have someone who has made that promise and who is now in the highest office means that he will be very free about letting things go.”


By odds, you’d expect the pope to be a diocesan priest — two-thirds of the world’s priests are. Of the third in orders, the greatest number belongs to the Society of Jesus. Established in 1534, there are 19,000 Jesuits in the world to- day — a number that is growing in places like Vietnam and Latin America as it decreases in the United States and Europe.

As unlikely as a Jesuit pope was, a Marianist pope is even more unlikely. There are more than 10 times as many Jesuits as are brothers in UD’s founding order, the Society of Mary, and only a third of Marianist brothers are also priests. Says Fleming, “Marianists try to focus more on the grass roots rather than on high offices. And most Marianists are not ordained priests but are religious brothers instead.”

Being from an order makes Pope Francis different. Knowing he’s a Jesuit further refines our understanding of his papacy. But in the end, what does it matter to us or to a Midwestern university like UD?
Hannah Petko-Bunney, a senior chemical engineering major, calls Francis the “people’s pope.” She says faith is very important in her family, who are nondenominational Christians.

“I think that the humility and open- ness of the new pope is refreshing,” she says. “There is a real chance for him to bring about welcome changes in the Catholic faith, bring about a new view of acceptance in faith.”

Senior electronic media major Scott Zingale says he was fascinated by the story of Francis picking up the phone to cancel his newsstand subscription. “I like the new pope because he seems down to earth,” says Zingale, who adds that he and other Jewish students on campus are interested in the pope’s words and actions. “He is a consistent authority figure that also makes time for the people that look to him for spiritual guidance.”

Francis’ model of leadership strikes at the heart of the learn, lead, serve tradition at the University of Dayton, says Yocum. By not taking on the trappings of the papacy, Pope Francis is serving as an inspiration of how those in leadership positions can conduct themselves.

While the pope can be a role model, he can also be a distraction, she says. We wait around for him to give us permission to do what we already know we are called to do. Following Francis’ example — and that of Jesuit founder Ignatius, who took first vows six years before receiving official recognition for the Jesuits from Pope Paul III — we should simply act, she says.

“That’s a significant piece, recognizing both our part in this and not waiting for the pope to do the work that we need to do here,” she says. The call to holiness is a universal call and we recognize, through him, that we are part of something much bigger, she says, “which includes Marianists and Jesuits and Benedictines and lay people and diocesan priests and people from all over the world.”

And all over the world, people are watching. And they see, in a simple act of example — of washing feet, of letting go of trappings and pre- conceptions — the promise of Francis’ young papacy.

Michelle Tedford is editor of UD Magazine. She once shared a ZIP code with Pope John Paul II when he moved to her block during World Youth Day 1993.


Still waiting for Rome

There has never been a Marianist pope. And the wait could be very long, indeed.

Father Paul Vieson, S.M. ’62, director of the Marianist Archives, tells us, “There has never been a Marianist who was created a cardinal.”

Popes are chosen from the ranks of the cardinals. Cardinals are priests appointed by the pope to help with the running of the church. Cardinals are often chosen from the ranks of bishops. Three Marianists have been appointed bishop, but none are currently serving.

Raymond Roussin, S.M., was the archbishop of Vancouver from 2004 to January 2009. Now archbishop emeritus, he is retired.

Paul Vollmar, S.M., was an auxiliary bishop of Chur, Switzerland, from 1993 to 2009. He is now retired.

Oscar Alzamora, S.M., was bishop of Tacna, Peru, from 1983 to 1991, when he became auxiliary bishop of Lima, Peru. He died in 1999.


Beat X? Really?

If you know just one thing about the Jesuits, it may be one letter: X.

Xavier University, UD’s longtime athletics rivalry (the future of which remains murky given athletic conference shifts), was founded by the Society of Jesus and is one of 28 Jesuit universities in the United States and among more than 3,700 Jesuit educational institutions throughout the world. It is named after St. Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit missionary.

Off the court, the rivalry dissipates.

“I think we’re good friends,” says Father David Fleming, S.M., professor at UD’s Ban- galore, India, campus, who had occasion to work with the future Pope Francis during the 2001 Synod of Bishops. “The fact that we live in communities and work in communities and have our training in communities brings us close together and gives us an understanding.”

The Society of Jesus is primarily comprised of priests but also brothers. It does not have women religious but does have associate groups of lay people. The Marianist family includes lay people, vowed women religious (Daughters of Mary Immaculate) and vowed men religious (Society of Mary, primarily brothers but also priests, all of whom share equally in membership and authority posts).

Orders adapt their missions to their times but always by the compass set by the founder. Therefore, the time and place in which the order was begun tells us much, Fleming says. Monastic orders, like the Benedictines of the fifth century, lived apart from society, creating community for those who participated in the work of God.

Breaking out of the cloisters were the mendicant orders, beggars who daily preached and attended to the people in the growing cities of the Middle Ages. These included St. Francis of Assisi and his followers. “Their style was appropriate to a growing population and had an urban sensibility,” Fleming says.

By the 16th century, the spread of Protestantism became the church’s primary con- corn. To its rescue came Ignatius of Loyola, a hotheaded Spanish soldier whose mystic- call experience led him to form the Society of Jesus. He is best known for the Spiritual Exercises — in which an individual’s calling is discerned through meditation and prayer, using intellect and emotion to deepen one’s relationship with God.

“It’s true that we have more than our share of Ph.D.s and intellectuals,” says Father James Martin, S.J., editor at large of America, of the Jesuits. “St. Ignatius put a great deal of emphasis on education because, when he was at the beginning of his ministerial life, he decided he couldn’t do much without an education.”

Says Father Thomas Reese, S.J., “We Jesuits have been changed dramatically by the fact that we went into higher education, which meant we had to send people off to get doctorates. … If you send people off for higher education, my God, they start thinking, and all that has an impact.”

In the 1800s, Father
William Joseph Chaminade founded the Society of Mary in Bordeaux,
France, to combat secularism and religious in-
difference in the wake of
the French Revolution.
Its path of formation — first as a group of lay people, then as an order of sisters, finally adding a congregation of brothers — reflects the Marianist value in community and equality, says Sandra Yocum, UD associate professor of religious studies.

“The Society of Mary see themselves as bringing Christ in the world in the way that Mary did — the focus is on community,” she says. “They were trying to respond to another way of thinking about fraternity, equality and liberty within a more traditional Catholic context.”

Yocum says this is the root of the unique community feel we associate with UD and two other Marianist universities, St. Mary’s in San Antonio and Chaminade in Honolulu. The Marianists are known for providing primary and secondary education, first to boys in France and now to schoolchildren in 31 countries.

“There are many dimensions to being in- tellectual that include the affective as well as the rational side of our lives,” she says. Mary accepted God’s invitation, but not without asking questions and speaking her mind. When the wedding at Cana runs out of wine and Jesus tells his mother that it was not yet his hour, she instead turns to the servants and commands them, “Do whatever he tells you.”

“There are many ways to be intellectual in the Catholic Church,” she says. “Sometimes we think about it in the small tent but there is this big tent. Both the Marianists and Jesuits reflect certain aspects of Catholic intellectual tradition. Both are needed in service to the world.”

Just as the Marianists are more intellectual than they are often given credit for, the Jesuits are more affective than often thought.

Martin says Jesuits have renewed their com- fitment to community. “For us, community was supposed to be primarily apostolic in nature, in the sense that it supported the work of the ministries. But recently, our superior general stated that community is part of our miss- scion,” he says.

Other similarities? Mystical experiences led both men to found their orders. Just as Ignatius safeguarded against the evil of careerism, Chaminade said the Marianists should not be interested in the “ecclesiastical dignities.” Ignatius told his missionaries to do what the local circumstances dictated; Chaminade wrote, “New times call for new methods.”

Each new religious founder borrows from the past, says Reese. “What can I learn from the earlier people and what makes sense changing … and what’s the special charism of my group? I think Ignatius did that in the 16th century when he looked back at Francis and Dominic and Benedict. … I think later generations have picked and chosen from different orders and come up with their own ideas.

“It all goes back to Jesus and the Scriptures — we’re all united there.”

Though should we expect unity in the stands during basketball games? That would take a miracle.

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