By Francesca Merlo
Addressing members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, also known as Spiritans, Pope Francis described their charism like the hand of God, who “caresses the people, caresses each one of you: the tender God who always caresses”.
The Holy Father emphasised, in particular, some of the fundamental values of the religious order’s charism: “Courage, openness and abandonment to the action of the Spirit so that He might do a new thing.”
The audience took place to mark the 175th anniversary of the re-foundation of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, which joined the original order with the Society of the Sacred Heart of Mary, in 1848.
Pope Francis went on to note that these values were already evident in the story of the order’s first foundation. The Spiritans’ founder, then a young deacon, along with twelve seminary companions, driven by the Spirit, courageously embarked on an unexpected adventure.
Fr Claude-François Poullart des Places “renounced the prospect of a tranquil future—he could have been merely a good priest from a wealthy family—for a mission yet to be discovered, exposing himself to sacrifices, misunderstandings and opposition, with a very fragile health that led him to an early death, before he could fully see his dream crowned,” explained the pope.
Pope Francis noted that through many unforeseen events, docility to the action of the Spirit transformed his life into a series of “courageous assents, through which God started something new in him, and through him in others as well”.
The pope spoke then about the second foundation of the congregation, in 1848. He said the Holy Spirit “asked the community to share all the fruits of its past in a new scenario”.
This was a time, he said, of joining with new companions: those of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Mary, who were also missionaries but who had a different history.
“To do this,” said the pope, “it was certainly necessary to overcome fears and jealousies, and the brothers of the two families accept the challenge, joining forces and sharing what they had for a new beginning.”
Faithful to their origins
Pope Francis stressed that with this rich history, spread over more 175 years, today, “we see that Providence has rewarded their generous and courageous docility to the Spirit: you are present in sixty countries on five continents, with some 2,600 religious and the involvement of many lay people”.
The order has grown, the pope noted, because its members have always stayed faithful to the spirit of their origins: “Evangelising the poor, accepting missions where no one else wants to go, favouring service to the most abandoned, respecting peoples and cultures, forming local clergy and laity for integral human development, all in fraternity and simplicity of life and in assiduity of prayer.”
“Your charism, open and respectful, is particularly precious today,” he said, “in a world where the challenge of interculturality and inclusion is alive and urgent, within the Church and outside it.”
Bringing his address to a close, Pope Francis urged each person present not to give up their courage and inner freedom, but rather to cultivate it and make it a feature of their apostolate.
“This,” the pope concluded, “was the great intuition of your founders and the beautiful testimony of so many brothers and sisters who have gone before you. And this is also the wish and the invitation I address to you today.”