Who exactly are the Jesuits?
Pope Francis is the first pontiff recruited from the Society of Jesus – a group known best for its members' practicality
The Guardian, Thursday 14 March 2013 14.38 EDT
An old joke tells of a Franciscan, a Dominican and a Jesuit who are arrested during the Russian revolution for spreading the Christian, capitalist gospel, and thrown into a dark prison cell. In a bid to restore the light, each man reflects on the traditions of his own order.
The Franciscan decides to wear sackcloth and ashes and pray for light. Nothing happens. The Dominican prepares and delivers an hour-long lecture on the virtue of light. Nothing happens. Then the Jesuit gets up and mends the fuse. The light comes on.
As the payoff suggests, the Society of Jesus has always been known for practicality and unflappability in the service of its motto: Ad Maiorem Dei gloriam (for the greater glory of God). Equally well known is the Jesuits' reputation as educators – giving rise to the adage: "Give me a child of seven, and I will show you the man."
The society was founded by the Basque nobleman, soldier and future saint, Ignatius of Loyola, who turned to religion after a French cannonball mangled his leg in Pamplona in 1521. Despite attracting the interest of the inquisition, the Company of Jesus, as it was known at first, secured papal approval in 1540.
The term Jesuit – originally used pejoratively to describe someone who was too ready to use or appropriate the name of Jesus – was never employed by Loyola himself and was adopted only later. Nor were the Jesuits the initial agents of the Spanish Inquisition, which was run by the Dominicans when it was established in 1480.
Central to the order's philosophy are the spiritual exercises set down by Loyola, which offer a means for the individual to learn more about themselves and God through prayer and guidance from a director.
Such fortitude and focus was needed by the Jesuits, whose early missionary work took them through Protestant Europe and as far afield as the New World, Japan, Tibet and Goa. Although the 20,000-strong society is mainly comprised of priests, there are also 2,000 Jesuit brothers, and almost 4,000 scholastics – or men studying for the priesthood.
Members undertake a variety of roles: some work as parish priests; others as teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists and astronomers.
What binds them together is a shared vision of their role. According to Jesuits in the UK, the contemporary Jesuit mission "is the service of faith and the promotion in society of 'that justice of the Gospel which is the embodiment of God's love and saving mercy'".
They are organised into 91 geographical "provinces", which are each overseen by a provincial superior, who answers to the head of the society, the superior general.
But despite their numbers and global presence – the society is the largest male order in the world, with members at work in more than a 100 countries around the world - Jesuits have had to wait almost five centuries to see one of their number elevated to the highest post in the Catholic church.
Although they take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience Jesuits have historically been viewed with suspicion in Rome and elsewhere, and seen as a group that is a little too practical, a little too independent, and a little too powerful for its own good.
In Elizabethan England, Jesuits were reviled as the embodiment of the Catholic threat-from-within, ruthlessly persecuted and even dragged into the gunpowder plot.
In the new world, their defence of the indigenous peoples they had converted to Catholicism put them at odds with the Spanish and Portuguese governments, who saw their behaviour as a hindrance to their economic interests in the area.
By the mid to late 18th century, the order had become so feared and despised that it was suppressed in many parts of the world, only to be re-established by Pope Pius VII in 1814.
In the late 20th century some Latin American Jesuits echoed their predecessors by angering Rome through their embrace of liberation theology, in which Christ's teachings are interpreted in relation to the politics and economics of poverty. Among those who rejected the movement, which was later fiercely condemned by the Vatican under John Paul II, was an Argentinian Jesuit priest named Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Pope Francis begins tenure with warning
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2013 00:47 AlJazeera
Pope Francis has warned in his first Mass that the troubled Catholic Church risked becoming little more than a charity with no spiritual foundations if it failed to undergo renewal.
Addressing the cardinals who elected him as Latin America's first pope, the 76-year-old Argentinian said on Thursday the Church could "end up a compassionate NGO", using an Italian word that can also mean "pitiful".
"I would like all of us after these days of grace to have the courage to walk in the presence of the Lord," Francis said, amid the splendour of the Sistine Chapel.
He warned the cardinals against "the worldliness of the Devil".
"Walking, building and confessing are not so easy. Sometimes there are tremors," the pope said, in a homily that will be scrutinised for clues to the style of his leadership.
The new head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, who was formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had begun his reign by meeting people in Rome and laying a bouquet of flowers in homage to the Virgin Mary in a basilica.
The pope also prayed at the altar of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order to which he belongs.
He returned to the priests' quarters where he stayed before the conclave and settled his own bill.
The election of the son of a railway worker, who was considered an outsider, was met with widespread surprise and expressions of hope for change in a Church riven by scandal and internal conflict.
It was also seen as recognition of the Church's power in Latin America, which now accounts for 40 percent of the world's Catholics, in contrast to its decline in Europe.
"The choice of Bergoglio shows that the Church is determined not to remain in mourning for the crisis in Europe but has opened its doors to the revitalising energy of Catholicism's biggest continent," Vatican expert Luigi Accatoli told the AFP news agency.
Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman, reporting from the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, said that Francis revealed what he would have done if elected as pope, in an interview with an Argentinian journalist, shortly before he left to the Vatican.
"One of the things he said he would have done is to eradicate the corruption from the 'guilded palaces' of the Vatican. He also said that the Vatican Bank needs to be cleaned up and made transparent immediately, and that 'everyone knew' who the corrupt cardinals were in the Vatican," said Newman.
"So he clearly plans to do some serious housecleaning, now that he is in charge," she added.
Projecting an image as a simple man of the people, the pope chose to name himself after St Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century saint who shunned the riches of his family to devote himself to God and the poor.
The Vatican revealed that, for the ride back to the conclave lodgings after Wednesday's election, Francis shunned the papal limousine with the "Vatican City State One" number plates, opting instead to board a minibus with the cardinals.
It was in keeping with his image as a man who as archbishop of Buenos Aires chose to live in a modest apartment rather than the official residence and took buses to work.