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Church in India celebrating the restoration of the Society of Jesus

July 17, 2014

On 7th August, the Society of Jesus will mark in India as well as the rest of the world the bicentennial of its restoration by Pope Pius VII. On 16 August 1773, Clement XIV had suppressed it with the apostolic brief Dominus ac Redemptor. Forty years later Pius VII restored the Society with the papal bull Omnium sollicitudo Ecclesiarum.

Fr Errol Fernandes SJ, asked questions about the role the Jesuits - in India and around the world - play in society, and if the Society needs to reinvent itself. An expert in Scriptures and new media, the clergyman is Vice Principal of St Xavier's College (Commerce section), Mumbai.

"If the Society of Jesus was suppressed in Mumbai and India today, would we be missed or would life go on as usual? Would state and national leaders make a case for us to stay because we are contributing significantly to the resources of the state and the country? "We were once known as the School masters of Europe; those who broke new ground and were fearless. Can this be said of us today?"

Founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540, the Society of Jesus faced a number of challenges in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Despite their steadfast defence of the papacy, the Jesuits were accused by more conservative and orthodox groups to interpret faith too liberally, and were criticised for their closeness to the royal families and influential personalities in Portugal, Spain and France.

This generated an anti-Jesuit feeling, which led first to the Society's expulsion from Brazil (1754), Portugal (1759), France (1764), Spain (and its colonies, 1767) and Parma (1768); then to its suppression by Pope Clement XIV in 1773.

Though Clement was not personally in favour of the suppression, he yielded to pressure from some Catholic countries in Europe that threatened to break away from the Church if the Society was not suppressed.

Nevertheless, Clement XIV's order provided for local bishops to implement Dominus ac Redemptor in their regions. This enabled the Society of Jesus to survive in Russia and Prussia, non-Catholic countries whose leaders (respectively Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great) had studied with the Jesuits, and recognised that the educational apostolate was a resource that favoured stability in their respective nations.

After the Society was suppressed, Europe went through the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Exhausted by the situation, people began to hope for a return of the Jesuits in their original form.

Pius VI, who succeeded Clement XIV, sought to restore order but died before he could do it. His successor, Pius VII, renewed the pledge to restore the Society of Jesus in those nations that would request it. From the Americas to Europe, everyone asked for its return.

Imprisoned by Napoleon in 1809, on his liberation in 1814 Pius VII announced the restoration of the order, sanctioned by the papal bull Omnium sollicitudo Ecclesiarum. (NC)

Source: AsiaNews

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