April 12, 2013

Pope prompts reflections on Jesuit past


---- — LAKE PLACID — Pope Francis touches hearts and minds, Roman Catholic and non-Catholic, as he makes his red-leather-shoes way as the newly elected Bishop of Rome.

The former cardinal’s Jesuit roots link him to the religious origins of this region, which date back to French-Canadian Jesuits founding St. Regis Mission in 1755.

“The foundations of the church in the North Country were supported by Jesuit missionaries,” the Rev. John R. Yonkovig of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Lake Placid said.

“There are no parishes that are presently staffed by them in the North Country.”

Fordham University, the Jesuit University of New York, was founded by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York in 1841. Then known as St. John’s College, it was staffed early on by priests of the Society of Jesus, which is the same order as Pope Francis, who is formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

On March 11, 1958, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus and was ordained on Dec. 13 1969, by Archbishop Ramon Jose Castellano.

Pope John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal and assigned him the title of San Roberto Bellarmino at the consistory on Feb. 21, 2001. 

“There are Jesuit roots here, but you have to dig deep,” Yonkovig said. “Jesuits, usually missionaries, come and establish the faith.”

Such was the case with St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Plattsburgh, where Yonkovig was previously assigned.

“Then, native clergy take over after the church got established. The number of Catholics began to grow, and young men from the parishes were sent off to school and they replaced the original missionaries,” Yonkovig said.

In Plattsburgh, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate arrived from Paris in 1853. The religious congregation was founded by St. Eugene de Mazenod in 1816.

“They followed the French immigrants and established the parish. They left in 1989. They moved on. Their charisma, their ministerial gift, their job description is to plant the seed of God’s word. They’re not the ones that harvest the word. The plant the word of God, and they move on,” Yonkovig said.

With the surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in March, Pope Francis, the former Jesuit Archbishop of Buenos Aires, became the first pontiff of the Americas. 

“I think he’s an extraordinary fit at this time,” Yonkovig said. “Pope Benedict XVI was an expert in church doctrine. Pope Francis is an expert in compassion. I think the pope has a deep sense of the value of human life and of God’s creation. He will very humbly preach that divine origin of all life.”

This is illustrated by Pope Francis’s calls to Buenos Aires, to which he has not returned because of his papal election. His farewells included his paperboy to thank him for his service.

“He sees a value and worth in the human spirit and not the job that you have, clothes that your wear or car you drive,” Yonkovig said. “Every single human life is created in the image of God and is of great value.”

Many were surprised by the speed with which the papal conclave of 2013 elected the first non-European pontiff in 1,200 years and the first Jesuit to lead the Catholic Church.

“Our God is a God of surprises,” Yonkovig said. “He certainly did not disappoint this time. We thought it would be an Italian. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. You cannot confine or define how the Holy Spirit will work. We’re all surprised. I think Pope Francis is equally surprised. The Jesuits are the best educators within the church. It’s a very good choice.”

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