Another surprise: Pope Francis meets with Filipino Jesuits

Pia Ranada

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Another surprise: Pope Francis meets with Filipino Jesuits
(4th UPDATE) Ateneo President Fr Jett Villarin tells Rappler the Pope and the Jesuits discussed vocation, love of Christ and the youth. 'Very Jesuit, very casual.'
'FAMILY GATHERING.' Pope Francis meets with 40 Filipino Jesuits from various Jesuit institutions all over the country. Photo courtesy of Fr Ari Dy, SJ

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – On his second day in the Philippines, Pope Francis pulled another surprise and met with his fellow Jesuits for close to an hour.

Jesuit Fr Antonio Spadaro, reporting for Italy’s RAI News and La Civilta Cattolica, said on Twitter that the Pope – a Jesuit himself – met with 40 Jesuits on Friday night, January 16, at the Apostolic Nunciature or the Holy See’s mission in Manila.

They were informed about the meeting with the Pope last week but details were not given until this week. They were also forbidden to provide details about the meeting until after the meeting itself. (READ: Filipino Jesuits on Pope visit: It’s a form of renewal)

Among the Jesuits who met with the Pope were Jesuit Father Provincial Antonio Moreno, Ateneo de Manila University President Fr Jose Ramon “Jett” Villarin SJ, former Ateneo President Fr Bienvenido Nebres SJ, Fr Xavier Alpasa SJ, and Fr Celerino Reyes SJ. The 40 Jesuits came from various Jesuit universities, high schools, seminaries, formations and ministries across the country.

Here is a video of the meeting posted by Fr Xavier Alpasa SJ:

In a press briefing, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi quoted the Filipino Jesuits as saying, “We are 40, like the 40 elephants in Sri Lanka!”

It was Moreno who told the Pope, “You were greeted by 40 elephants in Sri Lanka. Now you have 40 Jesuits,” to which the Pope replied, “The elephants were better dressed.” The exchange led to laughter.

It was a reference to the elephants that welcomed the Pope to Sri Lanka in the first leg of his Asian trip on Tuesday. 

Describing the meeting, Villarin told Rappler, “It was just like a simple family gathering and we talked about all sorts of stuff like vocation, love of Christ, prayer, mission, the youth, serving those at the peripheries, migrants, etc.” (READ: Elderly, infirm Jesuits celebrate Pope arrival from home)

“Very Jesuit, very casual,” he added. 

Asked what he found the most striking among Francis’ words to the group, Villarin said, “‘That when Christ looks at the poor, he is looking at himself.'”

He described the meeting as having “lots of humor and fraternal familiarity.”

When asked about what his impressions were of Filipinos, Pope Francis said he had been in the country for just two days and drew an analogy of a Jesuit from Argentina attending a conference in another country for a week and then writing a book about Argentina’s socio-political-economic conditions.

The Pope instead said he was more comfortable talking about his experience with Filipinos in Argentina and in Rome – those who worked in the Curia and the reception – describing them as having dignity. He also said he noticed how Filipinos talk about not only their parents but also their grandparents in a very special way.

Asked what message he had for the Jesuit Mission in China, the Pope merely said, “Just be patient.”

He emphasized the need for Jesuit ministries to focus on the margins and the peripheries because it is there where the suffering Christ can be found, Jesuits interviewed by Rappler said.

Ateneans were hoping that the Pope would visit the Jesuit university in Quezon City but there was no planned meeting in the itinerary.

Francis will visit the University of Santo Tomas in Manila on Sunday for a meeting with religious leaders and the youth.  

This is the second impromptu event of the pontiff’s Manila visit following his meeting with children from the Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation after the Mass at the Manila Cathedral earlier in the day.

The Pope is known for holding spontaneous meetings and stops during his overseas visits. In South Korea, Francis also made a surprise visit to a Jesuit-run university in August 2014. 

Francis, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, is the first Jesuit to become pope.

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.