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Jesuits

Last updated on: March 15, 2013 18:40 IST

What you must know about God's Marines

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Pope Francis is the first ever Jesuit to be anointed pope. The Jesuits are one of the largest and most powerful orders under the Roman Catholic Church. Here are some interesting facts about this order that you may not have known.

The newly anointed Pope Francis has a few firsts to his credit.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina is the first non-European to lead the Roman Catholic Church in more than 1,200 years (the first, to give you another point of reference, since Christopher Columbus sailed into the New World).

The last non-European was St Gregory III of Syria, who died in 741.

Cardinal Bergoglio is the first ever Jesuit pope in the Roman Catholic Church's 2,000-year-old history.

He is also first pope to take on the name Francis.

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Image: Barely 12 hours after his election, Pope Francis quietly left the Vatican on a private visit to the 5th century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Photographs: Osservatore Romano/Reuters
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The Pope of the Poor

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A Vatican statement has said the new pope chose his name in honour of St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order.

The pope's gesture is being seen as an overture to the Franciscans, who have often been seen as the Jesuits's traditional rivals.

More importantly, St Francis of Assisi had taken an inflexible stand against greed and wealth in the hands of a few; a line of thought the austere Pope Francis is expected to follow.

Among the legends surrounding St Francis is one that says he heard a voice asking him to repair the chapel of San Damiano, a church and monastery in Assisi.

Pope Francis too, is expected to 'repair God's house (ie, the Church), which has fallen into ruin.'

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Image: A security guard stands at the ruins of the Jesuit mission at Santisima Trinidad del Parana, Paraguay. The mission was built in 1706.
Photographs: Jorge Adorno/Reuters
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Why Jesuits avoided the papacy

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Considering its history as a polarizing force within the Catholic religion, the Society of Jesus, in its modern avatar, has tried to avoid both Church politics and high-ranking Church positions.

Also, Jesuits are expected to move to areas where they are needed at short notice, which would not be easily possible if they were saddled with the responsibility of a high post.

This is one of the reasons why there has never been a Jesuit pope.

Though members have been encouraged to maintain a low profile, they may accept a high post if they are asked to do so.

The Jesuits have played a prominent role in the fields of education, social justice, theology, missionary work and publishing.

They are notable for their intellectual and scholarly explorations, which involves deep knowledge of other faiths (for example, Jesuit fathers have written Hindi-English dictionaries, can teach Sanskrit and even Hinduism) and cultural research.

The order has produced many scientists, physicians, missionaries, scholars and teachers.

As a result, they are probably the most-well known Catholic orders in the non-Catholic world.

Cardinal Bergoglio's elevation as pope is expected to lend papacy the kind of world-wide appeal that has not been there before.

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Image: A wooden carving of Jesus Christ is displayed in the Church of San Miguel de Velasco in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The Jesuits built churches distinguished for their wood carving, painting and music education.
Photographs: Stringer/Reuters
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The Jesuits in India

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Most of us in India are familiar with the Jesuit order; they are known for their strong involvement in the education sector and have set up schools and colleges both in India and across the world.

The first university college in India, St Joseph's College, was founded in Nagapattinam in 1844 by the French Jesuits. It was shifted to Trichy in 1884.

Some of the most prestigious educational institutions in India are run by Jesuits. These include one of Mumbai's most famous colleges, St Xavier's, Chennai's Loyola College and Bengaluru's St Joseph's College.

In fact, schools, colleges and vocational training institutions named after St Xavier, St Joseph and the founder of the Jesuit order, St Ignatius of Loyola, can be found all over India.

There are over 150 Jesuit-run schools and 30 Jesuit-run colleges in India alone.

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Image: Mumbai's famed St Xavier's college is founded by Jesuits and named after the patron saint for Catholic missions, St Francis Xavier. US President Obama held a townhall for students here during his visit to India.
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters
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The Church's Stormtroopers

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Did you know that the word Jesuit is an anglicised version of the Latin word, Jesuita? Jesuita is a combination of the Latin words Jesu and Ita which, when translated, read Yes Jesus.

The Jesuits are also known as 'God's Marines' or the 'Church's Stormtroopers' because they are prepared to live in anywhere in the world, among the most marginalised people, in all kinds of extreme conditions.

You may have also noticed the letters S J written after every Jesuit's name.

S J stands for the powerful and controversial Society Of Jesus, more popularly known as the Jesuits.

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Image: Jesuit priest Father Jean-Simon Ratsimbazafy with Victoire Rasoamanarivo, a victim of Cyclone Giovanni that hit Madagascar in 2012.
Photographs: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters
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A soldier of Christ

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The election of Cardinal Bergoglio as the new pope has resulted in renewed interest in this highly committed order.

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 was founded by Ignatius of Loyola, a Basque who served as a soldier until he suffered a serious leg injury in the Battle of Pamplona against France in 1521.

During his recovery, he began reading books about Jesus and the lives of saints and was filled with a desire to reform his life. As a result of his spiritual conversion, he decided to become a soldier of Christ.

Ignatius, who was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, is known as the patron saint of soldiers.

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Image: Jesuit priest Jose Maria Korta, 81, on a hunger strike in front of the administrative office of the National Assembly in Venezuela, October 21, 2010. He was demanding the release of Yukpa Casique Sabino Romero, who has been imprisoned for a year since his involvement in a clash between landowners and indigenous people.
Photographs: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
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Companions of Jesus

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The Society of Jesus began as a group of seven men, including St Francis Xavier, who took the vows of poverty and chastity while they were still students in Paris in 1534.

Ignatius referred to the group as 'companions of Jesus.' This led to the official name of the order, the Company of Jesus (Societas Jesu in Latin). In English, it came to be known as the 'Society of Jesus.'

They placed themselves at the disposal Pope Paul III, who gave formal approval to the society in 1540.

The society's main aim was to propagate and defend the Catholic faith.

The order grew rapidly. By the time Ignatius passed away in 1556, it had nearly a thousand members.

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Image: El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes (left) presents a medal to Juan Antonio Ellacuria, brother of Spanish-born Jesuit priest Ignacio Ellacuria, and his wife Manuela Balenciaga, on the 20th anniversary of his brother's murder, in San Salvador, November 16, 2009.
Photographs: Luis Galdamez/Reuters
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The Black Pope

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Just like the pope is elected, the Society of Jesus elects its own leader at a secret conclave in Rome.

Jesuits from around the world choose their leader, who is then normally addressed as father general.

Like the pope, the superior general is elected for life.

The current leader, Father Adolfo Nicolas of Spain, is the order's 30th superior general. The first was St Ignatius, who took the oath in 1541.

Due the simple black vestments worn by Jesuits, the superior general is also known as the Black Pope.

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Image: Pope Benedict XVI meets newly-elected Jesuit Superior General Adolfo Nicolas at the Vatican.
Photographs: Osservatore Romano/Reuters
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The largest male religious order in the Catholic Church

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The Society of Jesus is an all-male order, with about 20,000 members worldwide.

Around three-quarters of this number are priests, making the Society of Jesus the largest order of Catholic priests.

It is also the largest religious order of men in the Catholic Church.

They are spread across six continents and 127 countries across the world.

The primary aim of the Society of Jesus is to protect and propagate Catholicism.

They were the Church's leading warriors against the Protestant Reformation movement in the 16th century.

They were also among the first Catholic missionaries to reach locales as distant as China, India, Asia and Central and South America.

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Image: Native Bolivian musicians practice in the eastern Bolivia village of Urubicha; their Baroque music tradition dates back to the late 17th-century arrival of the first Jesuit missionaries to Bolivia.
Photographs: David Mercado/Reuters
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Blacklisted by the Church

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The Society of Jesus's rapid reach across the globe, and its increasing influence was looked upon as a threat by the Church.

By the mid-18th century, the Jesuits had a reputation of meddling in politics and found themselves thrown out of most of Europe.

The English Jesuit priest, John Ballard, was executed for being involved in an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England.

In 1773, the order was officially suppressed by Pope Clement XIV. As a result, the order was expelled across the Catholic world for more than 40 years before it was restored by Pope Pius VII.

The order's autonomous nature has continued to lead to much criticism within the Church; Pope John Paul II felt the order had become too leftist and political in Latin America.

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Image: The 'Martydrom of St Lawrence,' thought to be the work of Baroque master Caravaggio, belongs to the Jesuit order. It has not yet been authenticated as a work of Caravaggio, but appears to have all the hallmarks of his painting style, including the dramatic lighting effect.
Photographs: Zeno Colantoni/Osservatore Romano/Reuters
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Francis, the Jesuit missionary

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St Francis Xavier, who founded the Society of Jesus along with Ignatius of Loyola, was the order's first missionary and the first Jesuit to visit India. He led an ambitious mission to Asia and ventured into areas where Christianity had never reached.

It is estimated that Xavier -- who laid the foundation for Jesuit activity in India, Indonesia and Japan -- converted more than 700,000 people to the Catholic faith.

Xavier died off the coast of China in 1552. His body, enclosed in a glass and silver casket, is displayed at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa. December 3, the day of his death, is celebrated as the feast of St Francis Xavier.

He has been depicted in various artworks, including Rubens's painting, 'St Francis Xavier raising the dead', in which the Flemish master has depicted one of St Xavier's many alleged miracles.

There are many who believe that Pope Francis, like his namesake Jesuit, will lead the Church to regions like Asia, Africa and the Americas, where Catholicism is on the rise.

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Image: A painting of St Francis Xavier displayed at the Kobe museum.
Photographs: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
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Scandal!

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The Society of Jesus had issued a decree which proclaimed that anyone with Jewish or Muslim blood could not be admitted into the order. The decree was only repealed in 1946.

There have been many periods in Jesuit history where they have been accused of political intrigue and of unnecessarily seeking power.

In fact, by the mid-18th century, they had a reputation of meddling in politics and found themselves thrown out of most of Europe.

Henry Garnet, a leading English Jesuit, was hanged for treason because of his knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to assassinate King James I, his family and most of the Protestant aristocracy by exploding the Houses of Parliament.

The English Jesuit priest, John Ballard, was executed for being involved in an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England.

The Society of Jesus has also been tainted by the sex abuse scandal which has rocked the Catholic world. Eight different episodes of abuse have been reported in different jurisdictions.


Image: The headmaster of the Jesuit managed Canisius Kolleg high school in Berlin sent an open letter to former students apologising for the sexual abuse in the seventies and eighties by some priests working at the school.
Photographs: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
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