‘This is God’s Style’

 ‘This is God’s Style’  ING-020
19 May 2023

Published in the magazine, Civiltà Cattolica, earlier this month, the following is a translation of Pope Francis’ conversation with Jesuits in Hungary during his Apostolic Journey there. The meeting took place at the Apostolic Nunciature in Budapest.

During the second day of his apostolic trip to Hungary, on April 29, Pope Francis met with the country’s Jesuits. Around 6 p.m. he entered the Nunciature Hall, where 32 Jesuits were gathered, including the provincial, Fr. Attila  András. He then greeted many of them, one by one. The meeting began with  words of welcome from Fr. András, who presented the situation in the province. Then the pope thanked him and said, “Now ask the questions you want. Thank you!” The Jesuits would have liked to give a gift for each answer given — “a game,” said the  socius to the provincial, Fr. Koronkai Zoltán. Francis laughed heartily, but asked them to ask all the questions first, and then at the end to give the gifts all together, because he feared there would not be enough time.

The first question was about youth ministry: how do we best engage with young people?

For me the key word is “testimony.” Without testimony, without witnessing, nothing can be done. You end up like that beautiful song by Mina:  “parole, parole, parole…”  (words, words, words). Without testimony nothing happens. And testimony means consistency of life.

Dear Pope Francis, it is a joy to have you with us. What prompted you to return to Hungary after your 2021 trip?

The reason is that the first time I had to go to Slovakia, but Budapest was having the Eucharistic Congress. So I came here for a few hours. At the time, I made a promise to come back, and here I am!

Regarding young people in formation in the Society of Jesus and young people more generally, what advice do you have for us?

Speak clearly. It used to be said that to be a good Jesuit you had to think clearly and speak obscurely. But with young people that does not work: you have to speak clearly, show them consistency. Young people have a nose for when there is no consistency. With young people in formation you have to speak as to adults, as you speak to grown ups, not children. And introduce them to spiritual experience; prepare them for the great spiritual experience that is the Exercises. Young people do not tolerate double-speak, that is clear to me. But being clear does not mean being aggressive. Clarity must always be combined with amiability, fraternity, fatherhood.

The key word is “authenticity.” Let young people say what they feel. For me, dialogue between a young person and an older person is important: talking, discussing. I expect authenticity, that people speak of things as they are: difficulties, sins. As a formation facilitator you have to teach young people consistency. And it is important for the young to dialogue with the old. The old people cannot be in the infirmary alone; they have to be in community, so that exchanges between them and young people are possible. Remember that prophecy of Joel: the old will have dreams and the young will be prophets. The prophecy of a young person is one that comes from a tender relationship with the old. “Tenderness” is one of God’s key words: closeness, compassion and tenderness. On this path we will never go wrong. This is God’s style.

I would like to ask a question on the topic of Christian love for those who have committed sexual abuse. The Gospel asks us to love, but how do we love at the same time people who have experienced abuse and their abusers? God loves everyone. He loves them, too. But what about us? Without ever covering anything up, of course, how do we love abusers? I would like to offer the compassion and love that the Gospel asks for everyone, even the enemy. But how is this possible?

It is not easy at all. Today we understand that the reality of abuse is very broad: there is sexual abuse, psychological abuse, economic abuse, migrant abuse. You refer to sexual abuse. How do we approach, how do we talk to the abusers for whom we feel revulsion? Yes, they too are children of God. But how can you love them? It’s a powerful question. The abuser is to be condemned, indeed, but as a brother. Condemning him is to be understood as an act of charity. There is a logic, a form of loving the enemy that is also expressed in this way. And it is not easy to understand and to live out. The abuser is an enemy. Each of us feels this because we empathize with the suffering of the abused. When you hear what abuse leaves in the hearts of abused people, the impression you get is very powerful. Even talking to the abuser involves revulsion; it’s not easy. But they are God’s children too. They deserve punishment, but they also deserve pastoral care. How do we provide that? No, it is not easy. You are right.

What was your relationship with Fr. Ferenc Jálics? What happened? How did you as provincial experience that tragic situation? Serious accusations have been made against you.

Fathers Ferenc Jálics and Orlando Yorio ministered in a working-class neighbourhood and worked hard. Jálics was my spiritual father and confessor during my first and second years of theology. In the neighbourhood where he worked there was a guerrilla cell. But the two Jesuits had nothing to do with them: they were pastors, not politicians. They were innocent when taken prisoner. The military found nothing to charge them with, but they had to spend nine months in prison, suffering threats and torture. Then they were released, but these things leave deep wounds. Jálics immediately came to me and we talked. I advised him to go to his mother in the United States. The situation was really too confusing and uncertain. Then the legend developed that I had handed them over to be imprisoned. You should know that a month ago the Argentine Bishops’ Conference published two volumes, of three planned, with all the documents related to what happened between the Church and the military. You will find everything there.

But back to the events I was recounting. When the military left, Jálics asked my permission to come to do a course of Spiritual Exercises in Argentina. I let him come, and we even celebrated Mass together. Then I saw him again as archbishop and then again also as pope; he came to Rome to see me. We always maintained this relationship. But when he came the last time to see me in the Vatican, I could see that he was suffering because he didn’t know how to talk to me. There was a distance. The wounds of those past years remained both in me and in him, because we both experienced that persecution.

Some people in the government wanted to “cut my head off,” and they brought up not so much this issue of Jálics, but they questioned my whole way of acting during the dictatorship. So they put me on trial. I was given the choice of where to hold the hearing. I chose to have it in the episcopal residence. It lasted four hours and 10 minutes. One of the judges was very insistent in his questioning about the way I behaved. I always answered truthfully. But, from my point of view, the only serious question, with substance and well expressed, came from the lawyer who belonged to the Communist Party. And thanks to that question, things were clarified. In the end, my innocence was established. But in that judgment there was almost no mention of Jálics, but of other cases of people who had asked for help.

I then saw again here in Rome as pope two of those judges. One together with a group of Argentineans. I didn’t recognize him, but I had the impression that I had seen him. I was looking at him, looking at him. I was saying to myself, “but I know him.” He hugged me and left. I then saw him again and he introduced himself. I told him, “I deserve a hundred times punishment, but not for that reason.” I told him to be at peace with it. Yes, I deserve judgment for my sins, but on this point I want to be clear. Another one of the three judges also came, and he told me clearly that they had received instructions from the government to convict me.

But I want to add that when Jálics and Yorio were taken by the military, the situation in Argentina was bewildering and it was not at all clear what should be done. I did what I felt I had to do to defend them. It was a very painful affair.

Jálics was a good man, a man of God, a man who sought God, but he fell victim to an entourage to which he did not belong. He himself understood this. That entourage was the active resistance in the place where he went to be a chaplain. You will find the truth about this case in the two volumes of documents that have been published.

The Second Vatican Council talks about the relationship between the Church and the modern world. How can we reconcile the Church and the reality that is already beyond the modern? How do we find God’s voice while loving our time?

I wouldn’t know how to answer that theoretically, but I certainly know that the Council is still being applied. It takes a century for a Council to be assimilated, they say. And I know the resistance to its decrees is terrible. There is incredible support for restorationism, what I call “indietrismo” (backwardness), as the Letter to the Hebrews (10:39) says: “But we do not belong to those who shrink back.” The flow of history and grace goes from the roots upward like the sap of a tree that bears fruit. But without this flow you remain a mummy. Going backwards does not preserve life, ever. You must change, as St. Vincent of Lérins wrote in his Commonitory when he remarked that even the dogma of the Christian religion progresses, consolidating over the years, developing with time, deepening with age. But this is a change from the bottom up. The danger today is indietrismo, the reaction against the modern. It is a nostalgic disease. This is why I decided that now the permission to celebrate according to the Roman Missal of 1962 is mandatory for all newly consecrated priests. After all the necessary consultations, I decided this because I saw that the good pastoral measures put in place by John Paul ii and Benedict xvi were being used in an ideological way, to go backward. It was necessary to stop this indietrismo, which was not in the pastoral vision of my predecessors.

My priestly ordination is coming up in three weeks. Do you remember what your priestly ordination was like? Would you like to give advice to a newly ordained priest?

There were five of us, and two of us are still living. I have a good memory. And I’m grateful to the superiors who prepared us well, and made a beautiful, simple celebration without pomp or ostentation in the Faculty Garden. Beautiful moments. And it was also nice for me to see that there was a group of my comrades from the chemical laboratory where I worked, all atheists and communists. They were present! One of them was seized and then killed by the military. You want some advice: don’t stray from the old people!


At the end, Francis stood up and said, “Thank you so much for this visit. We can pray to Our Lady and then I will give the blessing.” The pope received various gifts, which each person presented giving detailed explanations. Then Francis greeted individually those he had not greeted on entering and a group photo was taken.

By Antonio Spadaro, sj