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Gerard O’ConnellSeptember 26, 2019
Pope Francis meets with Jesuits in Maputo, Mozambique, Sept. 5, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) Pope Francis meets with Jesuits in Maputo, Mozambique, Sept. 5, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) 

Pope Francis spoke freely about his own “experience of God” since becoming pope, the importance of working for reconciliation in a polarized country, his belief that clericalism is “a real perversion” in the church, the difference between evangelization and proselytism and other important topics when he engaged in stimulating question-and-answer sessions with Jesuits during his recent visit to Africa.

The journey to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius represented the pope’s 31st foreign trip, and during each of them he has carved out time to meet the local Jesuits in most of the 47 countries he has visited. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, present at these encounters, has recorded and published the transcripts in that review and did so again this time at a meeting with 20 Jesuits from Mozambique, three from Zimbabwe and one from Portugal. (Two of the pope’s interesting responses are described below, but the full transcript of the encounter can be found online.)

In Maputo, Mozambique, on Sept. 5, when asked if and how his experience of God has changed since becoming pope, Francis reflected for a moment and then confessed: “I guess my experience of God hasn’t fundamentally changed. I remain the same as before.

“My election as pope did not convert me suddenly,” Pope Francis said, “so as to make me less sinful than before. I am and I remain a sinner. That’s why I confess every two weeks.”

“Yes, I feel a sense of greater responsibility, no doubt. My prayer of intercession has become much wider than before. But even beforehand I lived the prayer of intercession and felt pastoral responsibility. I keep walking, but there’s not really been any radical change.”

He added: “I speak to the Lord as before. I feel God gives me the grace I need for the present time. But the Lord gave it to me before. And I commit the same sins as before.

“My election as pope did not convert me suddenly,” Pope Francis said, “so as to make me less sinful than before. I am and I remain a sinner. That’s why I confess every two weeks.”

He said he had never been asked this question before and thanked the questioner “because it makes me think about my spiritual life.”

He added: “My relationship with the Lord has not changed, apart from a greater sense of responsibility and a prayer of intercession that has spread to the world and to the whole church. But the temptations are the same and so are the sins. The mere fact that I now dress all in white has not made me any less sinful or holier than before.”

He told them: “It comforts me a lot to know that Peter, the last time he appears in the Gospels, is still as insecure as he was before. At the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asked him if he loved him more than the others and asked him to tend to his sheep and then confirmed him.

“But Peter remains the same person he was: stubborn, impetuous. Paul will have to confront and fight with his stubbornness about the Christians who came from paganism and not from Judaism.”

He recalled that “at the beginning Peter in Antioch lived the freedom that God gave him and sat at the table with the pagans and ate with them quietly, putting aside the Jewish food rules. But then some came there from Jerusalem, and Peter, out of fear, withdrew from the table of the pagans and ate only with the circumcised.

“In short: from freedom he passed again to the slavery of fear,” the pope said. “There he is, Peter the hypocrite, the man of compromise!”

Francis concluded: “Reading about Peter’s hypocrisy comforts me so much and warns me. Above all, this helps me to understand that there is no magic in being elected pope. The conclave doesn’t work by magic.”

Mozambique is still a largely divided, polarized society because of the civil war that lasted from 1977 to 1992. When asked how Jesuits there should live the apostolic preferences of the Society in this situation, Francis responded: “It is not easy to rebuild a divided society. You live in a country that has experienced civil strife, with Mozambicans fighting one another.”

He suggested that “the apostolic preference regarding the Spiritual Exercises can help a lot in this context. They can be given to people engaged in different sectors of society and thus make them more able to carry out their task of uniting and reconciling. The experience of spiritual discernment can guide action.”

He told the assembled Jesuits that “it is appropriate to accompany all parties, especially where there is a need for unity and reconciliation in society and in the nation.”

But, he acknowledged, “we know that sometimes the best is the enemy of the good, and at a time of reconciliation bitter pills must be swallowed. In this process you have to teach yourself to be patient. It takes the patience of discernment to reach what is essential and put aside the accidental. It takes a lot of patience sometimes!”

At the same time, he said, “it is necessary to share our wisdom, that is the social doctrine of the church. But be careful: Jesuits must not divide. There is a need for reconciliation in the society of Mozambique: unite, unite, unite, unite, unite, have patience, wait. Never take a step to divide. We are men of the whole, not of the part.”

Emphasizing the importance of “the educational apostolate” among the young, he said, “It is necessary to be close to the young people, to give them space so that they can discern what is happening in their hearts.” He explained that “formation considers ideas and feelings together. To act well, you always have to consider your ideas and feelings.”

He insisted moreover, “we need spiritual discernment, of accompaniment for the good of society.”

Another Jesuit asked about the old Jesuit-staffed Apostleship of Prayer, which is now known as the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network. Catholics, Pope Francis said, need to learn the art of the “the prayer of intercession,” courageously and boldly holding up someone else’s needs to God and asking God to intervene.

As for the global network that encourages people to pray for the pope's intentions, specifying a new intention each month, Pope Francis said: “It is important that people pray for the pope and his intentions. The pope is tempted, he is very besieged: Only the prayer of his people can free him, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. When Peter was imprisoned, the church prayed incessantly for him.

“If the church prays for the pope, this is a grace,” he said. “I really do feel the need to beg for prayer all the time. The prayer of the people is sustaining.”

With content from Catholic News Service

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Linda Johnson
4 years 7 months ago

My friend recently visited the poor country of El Salvador. She found out that the Catholic Church runs schools for the rich and charges high tuition. There are no church schools for the poor. Is this true? If so, why does the Pope allow it? Thank you.

Bill Niermeyer
4 years 7 months ago

Why do you ask " Is this true?". Don't you believe your friend? I think you have more on your agenda!

Linda Johnson
4 years 7 months ago

Yes, of course I believe her but she might have been mistaken as she was only there for a week.

Vince Killoran
4 years 7 months ago

Here is the information I found on the Jesuit school in El Salvador, Externado San Jose:: "They initiated a sliding scale for tuition, based on family income. No longer seen as elitist, the school nonetheless has maintained high admission and academic performance standards."

Jim Smith
4 years 7 months ago

The Great Commission
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.
When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:16-20 (Here Jesus has risen from the dead and not yet ascended.)

The great commission does not include setting up a school system, or soup kitchens or establishing democracy.

I might remind you of the killing of Christians in El Salvador quite recently, care to volunteer to teach there yourself, Linda?

John Stefanyszyn
4 years 7 months ago

'Pope' Francis said that "I am and I remain a sinner."
What is sin?...missing the mark.
The 1God said to Cain that if you do good you will be accepted.
...and if you do not do good then you will miss the mark (sin at the door).
The Will of the 1God is for man to do good (as defined by truth by Him).
Therefore to not do good is to reject the 1God's Will and to rebelliously claim 'FREEDOM' for each to do their own will ( each for their self defined and self justified "good" for their desires).
'Pope' Francis has declared that he believes in 'FREEDOM' of will, rights, and religions (for each to worship ANY god).
And so his statement is true in that he is a sinner and remains to be one because he believes in 'FREEDOM' to do one's own will and rejects OBEDIENCE to the Will of the 1 and ONLY Creator God.

Linda Johnson
4 years 7 months ago

When Pope Francis was asked about perceived sinners, he responded "Who am I to judge?" This was proof to me that the Pope is following the Gospels carefully because Jesus expressly directed us not to judge others. The observant Christian, whatever his denomination, never, ever judges another human being. Like the pope, most of us are sinners, but whether we are nor not is for God to judge. This is a very basic tenet of the Christian religion.

Nora Bolcon
4 years 7 months ago

This is kind of an ironic article for me since I have rarely had my comments censored out of America's comment section after articles but this has happened twice recently. The two times it happened, I stated to the extreme traditionalist with whom I was communicating that Popes have done and can do evil, including Pope Francis. I also stated that some of our laws and teachings have changed over the centuries because they were found to be harmful (which is also bad or sinful). I further stated that I believe one can be an authentic Catholic, even according to our church's laws, and believe certain popes or even the majority of popes can make sinful decision and rules at times. These comments were cut out of the comment section so I guess I shouldn't plan on this comment lasting very long either but lets see what happens.

I agree with Pope Francis that he is a sinner, and if he is a sinner, and we know that sins are always evil, then Popes can make evil decisions and laws and actions based on that sinful nature. I do believe that teachings and allowances of slavery by the church and it's Popes, in the past, often in religious orders, was and always is evil. I equally believe the segregation and degradation, by exclusion of the female gender from equal ordination, is a real and extremely harmful abuse. I do believe when any pope, or group of bishops or popes, supports these misogyny based rules and teachings they sin while they do so, and every Gospel backs me up in that belief since all 4 Gospels demand all followers of Christ follow his command to love and treat all others the same and the same as they wish to be treated as a sign of that same love.

So if Pope Francis is genuine in his statement that he can be understood to be a sinner, then it stands to reason large groups of popes and bishops can also be sinners, so why then do these comments get continually removed by his religious order's magazine?

Todd Witherell
4 years 7 months ago

Pope Francis is beautiful, and honest about himself, and wise.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
4 years 7 months ago

Avoiding sin is a good thing. Befriending the sinner is still better.

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