Pope Francis tells Jesuits in formation to help at-risk youth

Pope Francis tells Jesuits in formation to help at-risk youth

Pope Francis meets with participants in the ‘European Jesuits in Formation’ encounter in the anteroom of the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Aug. 1, 2018. VATICAN MEDIA

VATICAN — Pope Francis met with a group of Jesuits Wednesday urging them to help youth who are unemployed, and who might be at risk of suicide, drug addiction, or of joining a terrorist organization.

Answering a question from a participant of a “European Jesuits in Formation” course, during a private audience in the anteroom of the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall Aug. 1, the pope said youth unemployment “is a problem of dignity,” and stressed it is an issue Jesuits should be working to help solve.

Unemployment, he said, may be “one of the most acute and painful problems for young people, because it goes right to the heart of the person. The person who has no work, feels [themselves to be] without dignity.”

“This is important: understand the problem of young people,” help them feel that you understand them, and “then move to solve this problem,” he said.

Francis encouraged those taking part in the Jesuit formation course to get their “hands dirty” looking for a solution to the problems of unemployment, suicide, and drug use among young people, as well as the issue of youth joining terrorist organizations.

He went on to say he believes one cause of the high unemployment rate among young adults is an attention on what he called intangible “finance,” rather than the economy, which can be more easily oriented toward the dignity of the person.

During the meeting, Pope Francis also indicated his desire for Jesuits to read two speeches: one by Bl. Paul VI at the 32nd general congregation in 1974, and one by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, former superior general of the Society of Jesus, whose cause for sainthood was recently opened in Rome.

“In these two speeches there is the frame of what the [Jesuits] must do today: courage, going to the peripheries, to the intersections of ideas, problems, of the mission…” he said.

“It takes courage to be a Jesuit. It does not mean that a Jesuit must be irresponsible, or reckless, no. But have courage. Courage is a grace of God…”

At the unscripted meeting, Francis also asked for their prayers, and made a comment about the difficulty of being pope, saying the work “is not easy.” Noting that perhaps that statement could sound like “heresy,” he added that it is also “usually fun.”

He recalled that it was said once that the primary role of the general superior was to “put to pasture the Jesuits,” meaning the general superior should be like a shepherd to the members of the congregation.

Francis said another person responded to this idea, saying, “‘Yes, but it is like putting to pasture a herd of toads:’ one from here, one from there…” because toads are not as easily shepherded as sheep.

This is a beautiful thing, however, the pope continued, “because it requires great freedom, [and] without freedom one cannot be a Jesuit.”

He pointed out that it also requires “great obedience to the shepherd; who must have the great gift of discernment to allow each of the ‘toads’ to choose what he feels the Lord is asking him [to do].”

“This is the originality of the Society [of Jesus]: unity with great diversity,” he said.