We in the Congregation look forward to Saturdays, a half day of work, followed by free time in Rome. This last Saturday, despite the threat of rain, 15 of us went to the Gesù, the site of our opening Mass and of the Mass of thanksgiving for the election of the new General. We went for a more ‘touristy’ aim, but I, for one, was not left just as a tourist.
A fine Italian Jesuit, Fr. Michele, regaled us with the history of the church, as well as Ignatius’ reason for wanting to be in that particular place. It was situated between the power centers of Rome (the papal summer palace and the ‘Town Hall’) and the poorest areas of the city. Ignatius wanted to be in contact with the powerful, but to draw their attention to the needs of the most vulnerable – a valuable lesson.
After visiting the tombs of St. Ignatius, Fr. Jan Roothan (who helped the restored Society find its footing) and Fr. Pedro Arrupe (who shepherded us after Vatican II), Fr. Michele led us into the crypt of the church, beneath the high altar. It is opened for only 4 days a year, between All Souls’ Day and the Feast of All Jesuit Saints and Blessed (Nov. 5).
The visit left me pondering, and in a good way. Down there – somewhere – is the body of Fr. Claudio Acquaviva, the longest-serving General (1581-1615!). I say somewhere, since it seems that after a new main altar was installed in the church, a new supporting wall in the crypt was needed. Fr. Acquaviva’s tomb is probably behind there! Wait a fate!
Clearly visible, though, was the grave of Fr. Lorenzo Ricci, the last General before the suppression in 1773. Hearing what happened to him after the suppression was so moving. Imprisoned in Castel Sant’ Angelo, denied the ability to say Mass, in isolation with poor rations, deprived of light, he steadfastly refused to deny the Society. Pope Pius VI wanted to set him free, but he died shortly before that could take place. A man of utter fidelity.
Such great men! For me the witness of the many Jesuits whose tombs I saw, including eleven Generals, set the discussion we are having in context. They ultimately put their trust in God, believing that by divine grace the Society would survive. A ‘martyred’ General, killed at the hands of Catholic representatives of the Bourbon kinds of Europe, made that point so eloquently.
That afternoon break put me in a different frame of mind. We can – and must – take seriously the work we do, drafting documents for the Society, but in the end, as with Ricci and so many others, the future of the Society lies in God’s loving and gracious hands, the God who called us and sends us. I find myself asking the Generals whose tombs I visited to pray for us that we keep always before our eyes at GC the God whom they served so well.