In separate meetings with Jesuits in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan during his recent Apostolic Journey, Pope Francis shares his concerns about war, for a synodal discussion to protect the environment in the region, and speaks out on a host of other issues.
By Antonella Palermo
War, the cruelty of violence, the protection of natural resources, the evils of the Church, the dream for Africa: these are just a few of the topics addressed by Pope Francis in the meetings he had with Jesuits in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, meetings that have become regular appointments on the agenda of his apostolic journeys.
The whole world is at war, will people dare to stop?
On 2 February, 82 Jesuits working in the DRC, led by the Provincial, Father Rigobert Kyungu, met with the Holy Father in Kinshasa at the Nunciature. Among them was also Jesuit Donat Bafuidinsoni, bishop of Inongo.
During the conversation, the Holy Father addressed the issue of the mission of reconciliation and justice—one of the “Universal Apostolic Preferences” of the Society of Jesus. Of the DRC, the Pope said, “it is clear that issues of conflict and factional strife are strong here. But let’s open our eyes to the world: the whole world is at war!” He recalled the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Latin America, and Ukraine, and asked, “will humanity have the courage, the strength, or even the opportunity to turn back? It goes forward, forward, forward to the abyss.” The Pope said he didn’t have the answer to that question, but admitted, “I am a bit pessimistic.”
The main problem: the production of arms
“Today it really seems that the main problem is the production of weapons,” the Pope said, lamenting that people continue to manufacture arms when “there is still so much hunger in the world.” He said, “It is difficult to come back from this catastrophe. And we are not talking about atomic weapons!”
However, the Pope continued, “I still believe in a work of persuasion,” adding, “We Christians have to pray a lot: ‘Lord, have mercy on us!’”
Pope Francis also recalled the stories recounted by victims of violence and unimaginable cruelty, and, in remarks to the Jesuits of South Sudan, denounced “a pagan culture of war” that is concerned only with how many weapons one has
“They are all forms of paganism.”
A commitment to saving the Congo biome
Pope Francis also reflected on the environmental issues, with all their economic repercussions, with respect to the Congo river basin, the earth’s “second green lung” after the Amazon, which is threatened by deforestation, pollution, and intensive and illegal exploitation.
Asked about the possibility of a Synod on this region like the one held for the Amazon, the Pope said there would not be a Synod, because the Synod on Amazonia was “exemplary.” The four “dreams” of the Synod, he said, can be applied to the banks of the Congo.
The planetary balance also depends on the health of the Amazon and the Congo biomes.
At the same time, he said, “it would be good for the Bishops’ Conference to engage synodically at the local level with the same criteria, but in order to pursue a discourse more related to the reality of the country.”
The Church is not a multinational company for spirituality
Speaking about the liturgies during his journey, Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for the Zairean Use—the approved, inculturated version of the Roman Rite—calling it “a work of art, a liturgical and poetic masterpiece… It is not as an adaptation, but a poetic, creative reality.”
Calling to mind once again the image of the Church as a field hospital, the Pope denounced “authoritarianism” as “one of the ugliest things in the Church … which then becomes a mirror of society wounded by worldliness and corruption.”
He insisted, “The Church is not a multinational spirituality corporation,” and invited his listeners to “Look at the saints! Heal, take care of care of the wounds the world experiences! Serve the people!” He noted that “the word ‘serve’ is very Ignatian,” referring to the founder of the Jesuit order, St Ignatius of Loyola.
‘In everything love and serve’ is the Ignatian motto. I want a Church of service.
Preparations for the anniversary of the Council of Nicaea
Pope Francis was also asked about preparations for the 1,700th anniversary of the first Council of Nicaea, which will occur in 2025. In response, he said that preparations are being made in union with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew to celebrate the occasion “as brothers,” and repeated his hopes for an agreement on the date of Easter.
Responding to a question on the possibility of resigning, Pope Francis said he does not think that resigning popes should become a normal thing. “Benedict had the courage to do it” because he felt he could not continue due to his health. “I for the moment do not have that on my agenda,” the Holy Father said, explaining, “I believe that the Pope’s ministry is ad vitam [for life]. I see no reason why it should not be so.”
This also holds true for the role of Superior General of the Society, the Pope said, adding, “On this, I am ‘conservative.’”
Africa needs honest political leaders
Pope Francis also had the opportunity for an encounter with Jesuits in South Sudan, meeting in Juba on 4 February with the eleven Jesuits working in the country, as well as Father Kizito Kiyimba, Superior of the East African Province, which includes Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
The Holy Father shared his dream that “Africa must grow” and not be exploited, a theme he had already raised in November during an online meeting with African students. Recalling that meeting during his talk with the Jesuits, Pope Francis said, “I was impressed by the intelligence of these young women and men. I really liked their way of thinking.”
He went on to say, “Africa needs politicians” like that: people who are good, intelligent, who can help their countries grow. Above all, Africa needs “politicians who do not allow themselves to be distorted by corruption.”
“Political corruption leaves no room for the country to grow; it destroys it.”
The cause of Pedro Arrupe
The Pope was also given the opportunity to speak about the cause for the canonization of Father Pedro Arrupe, the former superior general of the Society of Jesus. “His cause is moving forward,” Pope Francis said, “because one of the stages is already completed.”
He went on to explain that the biggest obstacle at the moment has to do with Arrupe’s extensive writings “He wrote so much and you have to read all of it, and that slows down the process,” the Pope said.
Asked how he himself prayed, Pope Francis said, “Clearly, I say Mass and recite the Office. Daily liturgical prayer has its own personal density.” He added that he sometimes prays the Rosary, and sometimes prays while meditating on the Gospel.
“For personal prayer, I, like everyone, have to find the best way to live it day by day.” He added, “I am afraid of prayer preachers who make abstract, theoretical prayers, who talk, and talk, and talk, but with empty words.” Instead, Pope Francis insisted that “prayer is always embodied,” and said that “one has to pray immersed in reality.”
Vatican News staff writers contributed to this report. The full text of Pope Francis’ talks with the Jesuits in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan can be found at the website of Civiltà Cattolica.