ROME — As the historic Jesuit-run paper La Civilta Cattolica for the first time rolled out four new language editions other than Italian, Pope Francis praised their work, urging the writers to have a healthy dose of restlessness, openness and imagination.
Even with its 167 year history, the paper “continues with courage its navigation in the open sea,” the pope told the publication’s writing staff on February 9, urging them to “stay in open water!”
“The Catholic must never be afraid of the open sea, must never try to seek shelter in safe havens,” he said, explaining that it’s especially important for them as Jesuits “to avoid clinging to certainties and securities.”
“The Lord calls us to go out on mission, and to go offshore and not to retire in order to safeguard certainties,” he said, adding that while going offshore means they could face “storms and headwind,” they must be strong and continue “to row in service of the Church.”
Pope Francis on February 9 had a private meeting with Jesuit Father General Fr. Arturo Sosa S.J. and close friend Father Antonio Spadaro S.J., who is also the director of the historic Jesuit-run paper La Civilta Cattolica, before holding an audience with the paper’s team of writers.
Other than Spadaro, additional members of the paper’s “College of Writers” present for the encounter included their vice-director Giancarlo Pani S.J.; chief director Domenico Ronchitelli S.J.and writers Giovanni Cucci S.J.; Diego Fares S.J.; Francesco Occhetta S.J., and Giovanni Sale S.J.
The pope granted the audience on the occasion of the publication of the 4,000th issue of the paper, which was established April 5, 1850, and is known for the special connection it shares with the pope and his specific mission.
In addition to reaching the landmark number of editions, the paper will from this issue on publish a monthly edition in four additional languages other than Italian: English, Spanish, French and Korean. They will also be receiving written submissions from Jesuits around the world.
In an uncharacteristically long speech, Pope Francis said 4,000 issues is not just “a collection of paper,” but contains the reflection, passion and struggles and tireless work of so many.
Noting how past writers for the paper referred to themselves simply as “workers” rather than “intellectuals,” Francis said he likes the humble definition, and follows their work closely, often keeping a copy of the paper on his desk.
“The deep and specific sense of your paper is well described and must remain unchanged,” he said, adding this points to the fact that the paper is an expression of a community of all-Jesuit writers who not only share an intellectual experience, but also a shared inspiration and daily community life.
The fact that the paper is for the first time expanding into languages other than Italian signals “an evolution” that has been thought of since the Second Vatican Council, but was never put into action.
“Now that the world is increasingly connected, overcoming language barriers will help to better spread the message on a larger scale,” he said, adding that the contributions received from other Jesuits around the world will also enrich what the paper offers.
Reflecting on what it means to be a Catholic paper, the pope then offered them three “patrons,” three Jesuits “to whom to look in order to go forward.”
The first figure Pope Francis pointed to was St. Peter Favre, a co-founder of the Jesuits who lived from 1506-1546 and was “a man of great desires, a relentless spirit, never satisfied and a pioneer of ecumenism.”
St. Peter Favre and his deep desire to change the world, he said, can teach the paper’s writers the value of “restlessness,” since without a healthy dose of it “we are sterile.” Only restlessness “gives peace to the heart of a Jesuit,” he said, adding that in order to cross bridges and borders they need to have this type of healthy anxiety in their minds and hearts.
He cautioned that at times the “security of doctrine” can be confused with the “suspicion for research,” but noted that with the writers, this isn’t the case.
“Christian values and traditions are not rare pieces to close in cases inside a museum,” Francis said, adding that instead, it’s “the certainty of of the faith” that serves as the “motor” driving their work.
“Your paper becomes aware of the wounds of this world and of individual therapies,” he said, and prayed they would each be a writer “who tends to understand evil, but also to pour oil onto open wounds, to heal.”
A second figure Pope Francis pointed to was Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit who lived from 1522-1610 and played a key role in founding the Jesuit missions in China. In 1602 he drew up a map of the world in Chinese characters that included the findings of European exploration in East Asia.
Just as Ricci’s map of the world helped to better introduce the Chinese people to the rest of the world, writers for La Civilta Cattolica, he said, “are also called to compose a world map.”
This map, he said, involves making recent discoveries known, giving names to places and knowing what a Catholic civilization really means. It also means helping Catholics to know that God “is at work even outside the confines of the Church, in every true civilization, with the breath of the Holy Spirit.”
Pointing to the virtue of “incompleteness,” Francis said Ricci is an example of this from which the writers can learn to be journalists who have an “incomplete thought” in the sense that they are open-minded, and not “closed and rigid” in front of modern global challenges.
Turning to the figure of Jesuit brother Andrea Pozzo, who lived from 1642-1709 and was an accomplished Baroque painter and architect, the pope said he can serve as an example for the writers to learn the value of imagination and creativity.
Through his work, Pozzo was able to “open with his imagination open spaces, domes and corridors, where there were only roofs and walls.”
Francis also pointed to the value of poetry, expressing his own appreciation for it and saying he still reads it often. He told the writers, then, to be sure to make space for art, literature, cinema, theatre and music in the paper.
He also spoke of the importance of discernment, which “is always realized in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen and the feeling of the people who know the humble path of daily obstinacy, especially the poor.”
“The wisdom of discernment rescues the necessary ambiguity of life,” he said, but cautioned that this ambiguity must be penetrated and entered into, just as Christ entered into humanity by taking on our flesh.
“Rigid thought is not divine because Jesus assumed our flesh, which is not rigid if not for the moment of death,” he cautioned.
Pope Francis closed his speech expressing his hope that the paper would be able to obtain a lot of readers in all five editions, and prayed that the Society of Jesus would support this “ancient and precious work,” which is unique due to its bond with the Holy See.