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The Economist explains: Who are the Jesuits, exactly? | The Economist

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The Society of Jesus is another such religious order. Set up by Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish former soldier, in 1540, there are now over 12,000 Jesuit priests, and the society is one of the largest groups in the Roman Catholic church. Known as the "soldiers of Christ" after the military bearing of their founder (who discovered his vocation, it is claimed, after reading a book on the lives of the saints in a hospital when recovering from war wounds) the order emphasises education, particularly their belief in the importance of learning languages, and the need for missionary evangelism in the life of a priest. They work in churches within cities and towns or run schools and colleges. Unlike diocesan priests, who can complete their studies in four or five years, Jesuits train for 12 years and only become ordained when they are in their thirties. Associated with the more liberal aspects of catholicism, they are less likely than other groups, such as the Oratorians, to conduct mass in the old rite Latin form. On becoming a Jesuit, they also vow never to take ecclesiastical office, such as a bishopric, unless ordered to by the pope.

This last vow is one of the reasons why Pope Francis's election was particularly surprising. According to Brendan Callaghan, the master of Campion Hall, a Jesuit college in Oxford, many Jesuits thought they would never see one of their own in papal office, even if some, such as Pope Francis, had become archbishops. Accustomed to being slightly on the margins of church hierarchy, the Jesuits are marked out by a questioning and occasionally defiant attitude towards the central office of the church. Putting such a potential outsider at the head of an institution mired by difficulties and facing a declining membership is a bold move. It already signals the changes to come.

They seem more disciplined, more austere, less power hungry, more into religion and evangelism.

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