Pope Francis: Halving of Jesuit numbers worldwide is a lesson in humility

Hannah Brockhaus   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA


Pope Francis speaks to Jesuits at the apostolic nunciature in Athens, Greece, Dec. 4, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

In a private meeting with Jesuits earlier this month, Pope Francis said that a sharp decline in the prominent religious order’s membership is an opportunity to learn humility.

“One thing that calls for attention is the diminution of the Society. When I entered the novitiate, we were 33,000 Jesuits. How many are there now? More or less half,” the pope said during a private meeting with Jesuits in Athens, Greece, on Dec. 4.

His comments were published on Thursday in the Jesuit-run journal La Civiltà Cattolica.

“What does the Lord mean by this? Humble yourself, humble yourself! I don’t know if I have explained myself,” said Francis, the first Jesuit pope. “We have to get used to humiliation.”

Data published in 2018 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in Washington, D.C., showed that the number of Jesuits had declined by more than half since 1965.

At its peak 56 years ago, there were 36,000 Jesuits worldwide. In 2017, that number had fallen to 15,842, CARA reported. But the Jesuits remain the world’s largest male religious order.

The center said in September that 61% of Jesuits are now in South Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Asia Pacific and only 39% in Europe and North America.

“We will continue to diminish in number,” Pope Francis said to seven members of the Jesuits serving in Greece. “This situation is common to many religious orders and congregations.”

He noted that, ultimately, a decrease in vocations to the order does not depend on them, but on God, who calls men to that vocation.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis, who joined the order founded by St. Ignatius in 1958, and was provincial superior in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, said that beyond sociological reasons, there is “a deeper truth” to why there are so many fewer Jesuits today.

“I believe the Lord is giving us a teaching for religious life,” he said. “For us, it has meaning in the sense of humiliation. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius always points to this: to humiliation.”

During the hour-long meeting, Pope Francis also spoke about death and how a Jesuit should spend his last days.

“It is to arrive at old age full of work, perhaps tired, full of contradictions, but with a smile, with the joy of having done one’s work,” the 84-year-old pope commented.

“This is the great weariness of a man who has given his life,” he said, drawing a contrast between “an ugly, neurotic weariness” and a “good weariness.”

“When you see this old age smiling, tired, but not bitter, then you are a song to hope. A Jesuit who reaches our age and continues to work, to suffer the contradictions and not lose his smile, then he becomes a song to hope,” he said.

The pope recalled a movie he saw as a boy about a soldier returning from war, “tired, wounded, but with a smile at being home and having done his duty.”

“As in life, so in death, the Jesuit must give witness to the following of Jesus Christ,” he said. “This sowing of joy, ‘shyness,’ smiling, is the grace of a full, full life. A life with sins, yes, but full of the joy of God’s service.”

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    • My sense is James Martin SJ seems his preferred model for the new, refreshened, devil may care, Tutti Fratelli Jesuit of the future. Although, the devil does care and would be delighted.

  1. The Jesuits are a disaster and should have been suppressed by JPII. I say this as a graduate of a Jesuit prep school whose great-uncle was a founder of the California province. I can only pray that it does not take another 50 years for the remain 15,000 to disappear. To claim that modern-day Jesuits have anything to do with St. Ignatius Loyola or St. Francis Xavier is like claiming that Madonna has something to do with the Blessed Virgin.

  2. I was trained by real Jesuit, long before the snowflakes/deviants took control… Little wonder they’ve fallen: most don’t believe in God, let alone the Catholic Faith.

  3. My comment above referred to Pope Francis’s diagnosis of the problem.
    For my money, I’ll go with Frs. James Schall and Paul Mankowski. Jesuits worthy of the name.

  4. The fall of the once proud Jesuit Order is a lesson that the embrace of modernism, heterodoxy, Liberation Theology and political correctness by many of it’s members has been utterly toxic and destructive. Get Woke, go Broke.

    To recover, the Jesuits need more priests like the late Fathers John Hardon and James Schall, and expel all those who adhere to heterodoxy, Marxism and relativism (a certain homosexualist Jesuit priest from New York comes to mind).

  5. “What does the Lord mean by this? Humble yourself, humble yourself! I don’t know if I have explained myself,” said Francis, the first Jesuit pope. “We have to get used to humiliation.”

    I, we, yourself, myself – six times.
    Lord – single occurrence.
    That’s all.

    Waiting for you to hear my song
    Waiting for you to come along
    Waiting for you to tell me what went wrong
    This is the strangest life I’ve ever known
    Can’t you feel it
    Now that springtime for the Church has come

  6. The ‘deeper truth’ as to why there are so many fewer Jesuits today: Could it just possibly be that it is so because the present-day Jesuits are nothing like their predecessors?

    This question from a graduate of Loyola H.S. more than 60 years ago.

  7. Jesuits are not alone here. Benedict XVI said that the Church would become small and poor, but it would be a Church of the meek, a Church of faith. Hopefully, it would then become a beacon of light for a world struggling in the dark.

  8. Inseparability and equality in quantity and quality of consecrated celibacy vowed to man and consecrated marriage vowed to God cf. Fratelli Tutti, 3 Oct 20 put into action from 10 June 2021 at Secretariat of State and Italian Parliament

  9. It seems since 2013 that the Jesuits were the sole religious order in the Catholic church and it seems that only Jesuits are promoted and esteemed by this regime! Good riddance to them since they have become more associated as a cult than anything that it’s holy founder wished it to be. It has become anathema to what its original purpose was to be!

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