We have received letters from two of our young Jesuits who study abroad.
Marko Pavlič and Rok Bečan belong to the younger generation of the Slovenian Jesuits. They began their Jesuit path in 2007, and over the years, they have worked and studied in various fields. Before and after the ordination to the priesthood – which they received together in 2018 – they have worked pastorally in Slovenia for several years – most recently in Ljubljana; Fr. Marko in the Jesuit College, Fr. Rok in the Saint Ignatius Retreat House. They are currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in theology; Fr. Rok at the Comillas Pontifical University in Spain, Fr. Marko at the Santa Clara University in California.
Letters from Madrid and California
In September 2021, I began a two-year course at the Pontifical Comillas University in Madrid, which is run by the Jesuits. Although not very well known known in Slovenia, it is one of the most prestigious Spanish universities, ranked among the 100 best universities in the world. The University was established in 1978 by uniting the Faculty of Theology (founded in 1890), the Faculty of Social and Pedagogical Sciences, and the Catholic Institutes of Mechanical Engineering (1908) and Business Law (1960). Later, other colleges (health, agriculture) joined.
Before me, even Fr. Viljem Lovše SJ, another Slovenian Jesuit, studied here and the Spanish Jesuits are very hospitable and accompany many young Jesuits in their studies. This year, there are about seventy of us foreign Jesuits in Spain.
My field of study is Theology of Spirituality, which means history, research and pastoral use of the various types of spiritual exercises or prayer, asceticism and mysticism, especially in Christianity, but also in the context of other contemporary religions. In the first year, we studied Ignatian spirituality specifically, which means a complete familiarization with the life and writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, other co-founders of the Jesuit order (most of them Spaniards) and later Jesuits – St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Borgia, etc. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council encouraged the Catholic Church and members of religious orders to study Christian sources with the goal of returning to the original charisma, which is God’s gift, and a constant spiritual renewal according to the needs of modern society.
Although I had to learn Spanish, gaining knowledge of the Spanish language and culture was useful, because the Spanish “golden” 16th century (Ignatius, St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Columbus ’discovery of America, Emperor Charles V, reform etc.) represents a significant part of Christian history, while nowadays about a quarter of all Catholics worldwide speak Spanish. In the course of study, this is reflected in an abundance of spiritual writings – historical sources and literature – being written in Spanish, but also in the opportunities we are given to visit the birthplaces and important spiritual places of some Jesuits (Loyola, Xavier, Barcelona, Montserrato, Manresa, Alcalá University in Salamanca).
The relevance of my course of study is reflected in the fact that (along with female religious order members and other laypeople) sixteen Jesuits from fifteen different countries from all over the world are enrolled in it this year, an exceptional number for a postgraduate course. No doubt the fact that the Society of Jesus celebrates the Ignatian Year in the years of 2021-2022 on the occasion of Ignatius’s 500th anniversary of conversion contributed to it.
I commend myself to you in prayer, so that I may bring the knowledge and the spiritual wealth I am receiving through these opportunities back to you. Or as St. Peter Faber SJ in his Memorial humbly assessed the experience of meeting Ignatius of Loyola while studying theology in 1529: “This year, Ignatius came to the College of St. Barbara and settled in the same apartment (with Francis Xavier) … May the Providence of God, who prepared all this for my good and salvation, be blessed forever. God wanted me to help this holy man with his studies and talk to him about external things and later internal ones; while we lived in the same apartment, we shared the same table and the same wallet. He guided me in spiritual things by showing me a way to grow in the knowledge of God’s will and my own will. Finally, we (all three of us) concluded that we were of the same mind and will. And God has suggested that we choose this life, which is adhered to by those of us who belong – and those who will belong in the future – to this Society (of Jesus), which I am not worthy of.”Fr. Rok Bečan SJ
After a year of online Bible study at the Santa Clara University (SCU), I finally managed to get “across the pond”. Studies at the Jesuit School of Theology (SCU), located in Berkeley, occur both “live” and online at the same time. It was an extraordinary experience to finally meet in person with professors and students, whom I had previously known only through screens. Although the screens helped me in my studies, they still failed to convey the experience of the meeting in person. We human beings are created for contact, a living relationship, and direct communication. Even the study of the Bible should not be limited to ideas, rather the acquired knowledge should transform into wisdom and a way of life.
Presently, I am exceptionally fascinated with Paul’s letters and biblical anthropology, or to be more precise, in what way human experience is reflected in the Bible. At the same time, I have the opportunity for additional education on the subjects of pastoral counselling and spiritual accompaniment.
There are sixteen Jesuits in my community, coming from four different continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, and America. We live in a house near the Jesuit College and the largest theological library in California. In addition to the daily Holy Mass in the Gesu Chapel, which is a part of the faculty, we have dinner together four times a week. Once a week, over fifty Jesuits from all five Jesuit houses gather together for dinner. In our houses, we meet three times a week. It is a moment when we cook for each other and taste foods from different countries. Despite the extraordinary cultural diversity, experiences, and views, there is a brotherly atmosphere. I am more and more convinced that diversity enriches and enables growth on both a personal and social level.
In the lecture halls, I meet people from different Christian churches, who want to serve their communities and work for a fairer world. Our dialogue is based on respect for the dignity of the individual within our Christian tradition and unique religious experiences.
When I meet other traditions, I gain a deeper insight into the richness of the Catholic two-thousand-year-old tradition and at the same time discover myself in a new way.
So far, I have had a positive experience studying and living in the international Jesuit community. When I look from afar at what is happening in Slovenia, I wish for more fundamental respect and acceptance of diversity – this is after all the standard for measuring the maturity of a democratic society. Sometimes, it is necessary to shake one’s own beliefs and allow for personal and collective growth. However, whenever our words and actions want to silence or “cut off” others, because they do not think as we do, we have already gotten trapped in ideology and failed the maturity exam. Because I believe that growth is possible, I wish that, in these difficult times, we would more often say to ourselves: we can, with God’s help!
Sunny greetings from California!Fr. Marko Pavlič SJ