The 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus opened on January 5, 1995, with a Mass at the Church of the Holy Spirit, located across from the Jesuits’ Curia in Rome. At noon that same day, the delegates proceeded to the Vatican’s Sala Clementina for an audience with Pope John Paul II. To the Jesuits gathered, the pontiff issues words of welcome and “for your reflection a few points of reference.” The congregation’s first plenary session was that afternoon, and the congregation continued until March 22.
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January 5, 1995
Dearly beloved Delegates of the Society of Jesus,
1. With the celebration of the Eucharist, in the course of which you invoked the Holy Spirit, you began your general congregation this morning. Your work will extend over the coming weeks.
At the very beginning you also desired to meet with the Pope, in order to underline the singular charism of fidelity to the Successor of Peter which, according to St. Ignatius, should characterize the Society of Jesus. You expect to receive “missions” from the Pope, as the Constitutions of your Institute say, “that in everything God our Lord and the Apostolic See may be better served.” Following in the footsteps of your Founder and his first companions, with this gesture of loyalty to the ministry of the Roman Pontiff you declare that the Society is totally and without reservation of the Church, in the Church, and for the Church.
I greet you with great joy, beloved Religious, addressing my remarks first and foremost to your superior general, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, thanking him for the sentiments he has just expressed in the name of all. Along with him, I greet the general council and the 223 delegates who, representing Jesuits from all over the world, give witness to the vitality and fruitfulness of the Society of Jesus, in the midst of all the various situations and problems it faces.
2. Your general congregation certainly understands the particular importance of this present historical moment, since it is essentially dedicated to discerning the specific contribution your Institute is called to make to the new evangelization, on the brink of the third Christian millennium, as well as to updating the internal organization and legislation of the Society of Jesus so that it can render ever more faithful and effective service to the Church.
So that you may better undertake the task before you, I would like to propose for your reflection a few points of reference which are surely not new to you. I am certain that these will help you in defining more carefully your contribution to the evangelizing mission of the Church in our contemporary world, especially in view of the “Great Jubilee” of the year 2000, in which a “new springtime of Christian life” will be revealed, thanks to the openness of believers to the action of the Holy Spirit.
3. First of all, the Society of Jesus is called to reaffirm unequivocally and without any hesitation its specific way to God, which St. Ignatius sketched out in the Formula of the Institute: loving fidelity to your charism will be the certain source of renewed effectiveness. The Servant of God Paul VI reminded the participants of General Congregation 32 of this: “You have a spirituality strongly traced out, an unequivocal identity, and a centuries-old confirmation which was based on the validity of methods, which, having passed through the crucible of history, still bears the imprint of the strong spirit of St. Ignatius. Hence there is absolutely no need to doubt the fact that a more profound commitment to the way followed up until now—to the special charism—will be the renewed source of spiritual and apostolic fruitfulness.” The late Holy Father added: “All of us must be vigilant so that the necessary adaptation will not be accomplished to the detriment of the fundamental identity or essential character of the role of the Jesuit as described in the Formula of the Institute as history and the particular spirituality of the order propose it, and as authentic interpretation of the very needs of the times seem still to require it. This image must not be altered; it must not be disfigured.”
Do not be afraid, then, to be ever more authentic sons of St. Ignatius, living fully your original inspiration and your charism in these last days of the century, deepening your full commitment to the Society of Jesus. Your charism calls you to be witnesses to the primacy of God and of his will. “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam:” the religious life, the apostolate, commitment to the world of culture, to social work, and to care of the poor must always have as their single end the greater glory of the Lord. All this points clearly to the primacy of spirituality and of prayer: neglecting them would mean betraying the gift that you are called to be for the Church and for the world.
4. Your commitment to the new evangelization in the light of the third millennium is based on this demanding spiritual and ascetic foundation which ought to be the basis for every apostolic activity. It requires first and foremost a renewed dedication to the actualization of the command the Lord entrusted to the Church: “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” This command of Christ is an essential aspect of the Church’s mission.
“Founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith,” the Society of Jesus, following the example of St. Ignatius and his beloved companion St. Francis Xavier, has offered in every moment of its existence a significant contribution, including the blood of its martyrs, to the realization of the Church’s missionary task throughout many parts of the world.
I am certain that this general congregation will not fail to pay appropriate attention to such a fundamental aspect of your apostolate. Today, as you well know, new nationalisms, radical ideologies, religious syncretism, certain theological interpretations of the mystery of Christ and his saving work, the difficulty of finding a balance between the need for the inculturation of the Gospel and the unity of the message contained in it, as well as other political, sociological, and religious circumstances, threaten to compromise the very foundations of your presence and evangelical activity in many countries. Despite these difficulties, I encourage the whole Society to persevere in its mission to proclaim the Gospel within the perspective of the Kingdom of God.
5. The task of evangelization also requires a more generous self sacrtfice in order to promote the full communion of all Christians. In my recent apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, I pointed out the supreme importance of the unity of all Christians: “As the new millennium approaches, among the most ardent petitions of this special moment, the Church asks the Lord that unity among all Christians of every denomination might increase, leading to the achievement of full communion.” In this great struggle the whole Church ought to find the Society in the vanguard. Resisting every temptation toward individualism, independence, or parallelism, the Society is called to give a stirring testimony to fraternal concord and ecclesial harmony.
The energies that the Society devotes to collaborating in every part of the Church’s life are well known. In this regard, I encourage you to keep alive this fundamental note of your charism of serving the universal Church, overcoming every temptation of provincialism, regionalism, or isolationism that could endanger the very existence of certain international and interprovincial works of great importance for the universal Church and for the local churches. On this occasion, I want to thank the Society for the work of the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical Biblical Institute, the Pontifical Oriental Institute, and Vatican Radio. On the other hand, however, in those places where you exercise your ministries, you must respectfully cooperate with the pastoral planning of the bishops in their teaching and in their care for the local communities entrusted to them.
A similar interior attitude should inspire theological research which Jesuits, animated by the spirit of faith, undertake in humble fidelity to the teachings of the Magisterium. What is there to say about teaching that forms the younger generation? This teaching must strive to provide students with a clear, solid, and organic knowledge of Catholic doctrine, focused on knowing how to distinguish those affirmations that must be upheld from those open to free discussion and those that cannot be accepted.
6. With these points as your bases, what emerged in the preparation of the general congregation is an insistent priority for the Third Millennium: missionary outreach and the promotion of a dynamic of ecclesial communion that extends into ecumenism, directs interreligious dialogue, and inspires the service of human rights and peace as foundations of a civilization of love.
It is clear that no one can hope to heal the wounds and the divisions of the world without a total commitment of self to the service of communion in the Church. We must be very attentive, therefore, lest the faithful be confused by questionable teachings, by publications or speeches clearly at variance with the Church’s teachings on faith and morals, or by any attitudes that offend communion in the Spirit. In this context I want to thank the Lord for the good that the Jesuits accomplish throughout the world spreading the Gospel of salvation through the witness of your words and your lives. I encourage you to continue on this path, dear brothers, surmounting every difficulty and relying constantly on the help of God, as well as the support of the Apostolic See, which expects much from you in this period of human history, troubled, yes, but through God’s providence also rich in apostolic and missionary possibilities.
7. This is the moment of new evangelization, which demands of the Society an apostolic commitment renewed and ever more concrete “in its devotion, its methods, and its expressions.”
Such a commitment must be rooted first of all in faith in the Lord who can fully sustain the Society even in difficult moments like our own, so that it may never cease to work generously for the increase of the Kingdom “by means of public preaching, lectures, and any other ministry whatsoever of the Word of God, and further by means of the Spiritual Exercises, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ’s faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments.” Indeed, this Society is of the Lord Jesus, and his is the good that it daily accomplishes in its service to culture, especially in the university world, in the formation of youth, and in the spiritual support of so many priests, religious men and women, and lay people. The fruits of divine grace are found no less in the apostolates of the parishes, in social centers, in the area of mass-media work, and in many centers for alleviating human suffering.
All this richness is part of the dynamism of the new evangelization, relying not on human calculation or refined strategies, but on a humble and confident relationship with him who is the first evangelizer, Christ: The apostolic energy of the new evangelization springs from a radical communion with Christ, the first evangelizer.
To achieve authentic forms for inculturation of the faith and to promote the values of justice, peace, and solidarity so needed in nations around the world as fruits of Christian life, we must focus every apostolic effort on the proclamation of Christ, the Redeemer of humanity.
It is certainly true that the Society is deeply committed to social work and to the service of the least of humanity. How could this not be so? How could one strive for the “greater glory of God” in all things, while forgetting that, as St. Irenaeus wrote, “the glory of God is the human person fully alive?” But such a mission should never be removed from the global service of the evangelizing mission of the Church, which is responsible for the salvation of every person and of the entire person, because of our supernatural destiny.
Dear brothers, the discernment that you are called to undertake during this general congregation must define ever more precisely your apostolate as a mission of utterly transparent evangelization, characterized by a powerful sense of God’s presence, of love for the Church and for each individual as the “way of the Church,” by a recognition of the gift of your vocation, and by the joy that comes from fidelity to God’s mercy.
8. Forming future apostles for such ascetic and pastoral directions is a fundamental need. You should always insist on a solid and lengthy formation for the professed of the Society. Your founder explicitly insisted that no one should be admitted to profession without thorough formation. Pope Paul VI recognized that “[w]herever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the front line between the deepest human desires and the perennial message of the Gospel, there have been, and there are, Jesuits.” Because this continues to be true, you must “not accede to the easy temptation of softening this formation, which invests such importance in each of its aspects: human, spiritual, doctrinal, disciplinary, and pastoral.”
I am fully aware of the great effort that has been expended to respond to such expectations. In this regard, I also want to express my appreciation for how much the Society of Jesus has done to improve the formation of the brothers, who are irreplaceable members of your order’s life and apostolate.
9. My dear Jesuits, the recent synod of bishops dedicated to the consecrated life and to its mission in the Church and in the world has addressed to all religious an urgent appeal that they perform their prophetic mission at the service of the new evangelization, giving visible and clear witness in their style of life, in their work and prayer, in radical imitation of our chaste, poor, and obedient Lord. May this appeal inform and accompany the labors you are about to undertake, and guide the choices you are called upon to make. Be well assured that the Church needs your able contribution to proclaim the Gospel of Christ more effectively to the people of our time.
May Holy Mary, who sustained and illumined your Founder, help you to “keep always before your eyes God and then the nature of this Institute.” May she guide you with maternal love.
In support of all your generous plans, I ask God for abundant heavenly gifts for each of you, and from my heart I impart on you and on all the members of the Society of Jesus a special Apostolic Blessing.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, “Allocution of Pope John Paul II,” pg. 667–672.