Archbishop Terrence Prendergast

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast

March 25, 2013

OTTAWA – As the first Jesuit pope, Pope Francis' Ignatian spirituality can help him discern God's will and reveal the Gospel in a new way, says Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, a fellow Jesuit.

The spiritual disciplines of the Society of Jesus' founder St. Ignatius of Loyola help one determine "what God is calling me to do in this particular circumstance at this particular time," said Prendergast.

"As a society, we need to let the Holy Spirit guide us in a way that is unique to each one of us," he said.

Though Ignatius might not have used the same terms, the archbishop said, "The way God speaks to me is unique to me, as distinct as my fingerprints, my DNA and the iris of my eyes."

When Pope Francis was Jesuit provincial in Argentina during the 1970s, he insisted on Ignatian spirituality as opposed to the liberation theology that casts the Gospel through a Marxist lens.

Jesuits have been on the forefront of liberation theology in South America.

Prendergast said it is natural for Jesuits to be concerned about the plight of the poor. "Social inequalities had to be addressed" in South America, and "Jesuits went there to use their intellect and their passion for the poor to bring that passion together with the Gospel."

The approach that Father Jorge Bergoglio would have taken is "to always keep the love of the poor coupled with the Gospel" and not go to Marxism, "which sets up class warfare," and "division, not what the Gospel calls for," he said.


"Some can emphasize social justice to the point that they lose their faith," said Prendergast. Others can stress the faith so much they do nothing for the poor.

The archbishop said when Bergoglio stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, Prendergast was in Toronto with a group of young Jesuits. He was "surprised," and "stunned."

"That the cardinals would have chosen one of us - we were speechless," he said.

The archbishop sees Pope Francis as neither a conservative nor a progressive. All bishops must be conservative in the sense that they preserve the Gospel, but while preserving the teaching they must find innovative ways to "present it in a way that meets the needs of the people today.

One way the new pope showed a spirit of innovation as archbishop of Buenos Aires was in how he invited poor families to baptize their children.

Bergoglio noticed many families were not bringing their babies in to be baptized because they could not afford to throw a big party as Argentinian society expected, Prendergast said. So, he had the Church throw the party so the Baptisms could take place and the families would experience no shame.

Some of the new pope's gestures of humility may be signs of the different way he hears God's message and how he wants to proclaim it, Prendergast said.


"How successful he will be will depend on his stamina and his stick-to-itiveness."

While Pope Francis' humility has been a focus of media attention, some reports have also drawn attention to what has been described as his strict demand for obedience as Jesuit provincial.

Prendergast explained how the Jesuit vow of obedience can be misunderstood. "What I understand about (Pope Francis) is that he's a listener. That's what a provincial is called to do," he said.


The obedience called for is not a "blind obedience" but an interplay of discernment between the superior and the priests, he said.

"It's only at the end of the process where I person says, 'I don't want to do that; and the provincial says, 'Well, that's what I think God wants you to do,'" that Jesuit obedience means "in the end, I do what I'm told."

But the process can take a long time, he said. A provincial needs to listen well to know the thoughts, desires, faults, illnesses and gifts of those under him to "assign them to the best use of their talents for the kingdom of God and society," Prendergast said.