Saturday, May 3, 2014

29 March 1848 - Fr General Roothans flees Rome in disguise


 Jan Roothans would become the 21st General of the Jesuits succeeding Luigi Fortis.  He is credited with preserving and strengthening the internal spirit of the Society, publishing new edition of the Spiritual Exercises and the Ratio Studiorum, restarting the work of the Bollandists and launching  La Civiltà Cattolica was started. Missionary work, particularly in Africa, flourished under him.  However in 1848 - the 19th year of his period as Fr General, was marked by the most widespread revolutionary wave in Europe, beginning in France and ultimately ending in parts of Latin America. Over 50 countries were affected, but with no coordination or cooperation among the revolutionaries in different countries. The revolutions based on the  demands of the working classes demanded more participation in government and democracy.  This extraordinary year also marked an upsurge of nationalism. In Italy the revolutions spread up the country from Sicily and focused their energy on getting rid of the Austrian presence in the North.

An interesting ingredient in Italy was the popularity of Pope Pius IX. He was considered a liberal and aroused the hopes of political liberals and of the poor both in the Papal States and throughout Italy. He began numerous political and economic reforms. Most dramatically he immediately pardoned hundreds of political prisoners, creating a sensation. He raised high hopes for greater popular influence in the papal government and for Italian unification. These high hopes were to give way to severe disenchantment.   Pius IX then refused to lead an Italian war of liberation against Habsburg Austria, because it was a Catholic stronghold. A violent uprising in Rome forced Pius to flee in November 1848.

Preceding the Popes exile by seven months, the Jesuits had to flee after the Pope regrettably informed them that he could no longer guarantee their safety.  The shifting mood in Italy had been anticipated by the General.  He had received from the Dutch a passport under the name of Franciscus Flamand.  Wearing a dark wig and the cassock of a secular priest,he prayed a long time at the tomb of St Ignatius and then visited the tombs of the Generals in the vaults of the Gesu, wondering if he would ever return.  At 3pm, a carriage of Lord Clifford, an English friend, arrived to take him to St Peters.  There he boarded a papal mail-coach which took them to the port of Civitavecchia, where they arrived to late for a steamer departing for Marseille.  They waited three days to board a steamer to Sardinia.
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