Jesuit priest Giovanni La Manna, who heads the Astalli Foundation in Rome, a Catholic nongovernmental organization for refugee rights. "If the Lord has called the only Jesuit cardinal to become pope there must be a reason, and I'm sure we'll understand later why." Perhaps it was just a matter of time before a Jesuit was selected, as the Vatican itself is located near a 16th century fresco in the center nave of the Church of Jesus in Rome where lie the remains of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the revered founder of the Society of Jesus.
In his day, St. Ignatius was called on by Pope Paul III to help reform a broken church that was combating corruption and a waning influence. Experts believe that, last week, another Jesuit was elected in a conclave to shepherd the Catholic Church out of a crisis of credibility -- but, this time, directly as pope. The announcement left many Jesuits dumbfounded as they heard the name of their only cardinal elector being spelled out in Latin from the balcony on the night that white smoke wafted over St. Peter's Square.
"It's just such incredible news because Jesuits don't expect to become bishops, let alone the pope," said Fr. Gerard Whelan, Jesuit professor at the Gregorian University in Rome. Indeed, popes have punished Jesuit theologians for being too progressive in preaching and teaching. The just-retired Benedict XVI, sent a polite but firm letter inviting the order's worldwide members to pledge "total adhesion" to church doctrine, including on divorce, homosexuality and liberation theology. The order, which now comprises about 19,000 men worldwide, was founded by seven men who bonded together as they took their first vows of chastity and poverty in Paris in 1534.
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