Pope Francis hopes to visit Spain to mark 500 years since Jesuit founder’s conversion

Screenshot 2020 10 07 at 155325 Pope Francis arrives for his general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican Oct. 7, 2020. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Pope Francis said he hoped to visit Spain to mark the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola in an interview published Wednesday.

The pope told the Spanish edition of the monthly magazine Il Mio Papa that he hoped to travel to Manresa, in central Catalonia, where the founder of the Jesuit order arrived in 1522 seeking to pray and do penance.

"I believe that the conversion of St. Ignatius is also an encounter of the heart and can invite us to reflect on our personal conversion, to ask for the gift of conversion to love and serve more in the way of Jesus Christ," said Francis, the first member of the Jesuits to be elected pope, in the interview released Oct. 7.

Ignatius' military career came to an abrupt end in 1521 when a cannonball injured his right leg while he was defending the city of Pamplona. He experienced a spiritual awakening while recovering from surgery. When he could walk again, he decided to embark on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

He went to a Benedictine abbey in Montserrat, where he confessed his sins, exchanged his expensive clothes for sackcloth, and left his sword before an altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary. 

He then walked to Manresa, arriving on March 25, 1522, and settling in a natural cave where he would spend the next 11 months. It was there that he underwent the religious experiences that led him to write the Spiritual Exercises, the foundation of Ignatian spirituality.

In 2022, Manresa will be the focus of events marking the 500th anniversary of this turning point in the life of Ignatius, who went on to complete his pilgrimage to Jerusalem and then founded the Society of Jesus in 1534. 

In July, Jesuit superior general Fr. Arturo Sosa announced that 2021-2022 would be designated an Ignatian Year. The year will begin on May 20, 2021, the 500th anniversary of the wounding of St. Ignatius during the Battle of Pamplona, and end on July 31, 2022, the Jesuit founder's feast day.

The pandemic has forced Pope Francis to cancel his plans for international travel in 2020. His last foreign visit was to Thailand and Japan in November 2019. Last Sunday he made his first official trip outside Rome since the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, signing his new encyclical, "Fratelli tutti," in Assisi.

The Vatican has given no indication of when the pope will make his next journey outside Italy. If he visits Manresa, it would be his first trip to Spain -- where 60% of the 47 million population consider themselves Catholic -- since his election in 2013.

In his interview with Il Mio Papa, a publication founded in Italy in 2014, Pope Francis also reflected on the world after the coronavirus pandemic, migration, and service of the poor. 

He revealed what was going through his mind when he gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing March 27 at the height of the pandemic in Italy. The 83-year-old said that at first he was afraid of slipping on the rain-slicked steps outside St. Peter's Basilica.

"My heart was with all the people of God who were suffering, with a humanity that had to endure this pandemic and, on the other hand, which had the courage to strive forward," he said, according to a translation of the Spanish interview by Vatican News.

"I climbed the stairs praying. I prayed the entire time, and I went away praying. That's how I lived that March 27."

The pope admitted that he had struggled with his general audiences during lockdown because they took place without members of the public present.

He said: "It was like talking to ghosts. I made up for many of these physical absences with telephone calls and letters. That helped me to take the pulse of how families and communities were living this."

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