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A Jesuit's Journey:
Fr. James M. Radde, SJ

Fr. James M. Radde, SJ

In honor of my 50th year as a priest, I requested permission to make a jubilee pilgrimage from my home in St. Paul, Minn., to Rome. I wanted to see Pope Francis and present him with a cross (pictured below) I had made for him.

With permission granted, I wrote to Pope Francis via email, in Spanish, asking if I could see him and present him with my cross. I reminded him that we had been theology students together in Buenos Aires in 1968-69. Thirteen hours after I sent my email, I received his hand-written, emailed response. He began (in Spanish), “Dear Brother.” The key sentence was, “Be sure to let me know in advance, when you will be in Rome, so we can see each other.” He signed it, “Fraternally, Francis.” I planned my time in Rome to give him adequate recovery time from his travels to the Congo and South Sudan. On receiving my Rome dates, he responded immediately, inviting me to see him at Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guest house where he lives, at 3 p.m.

At Casa Santa Marta, a gentleman in suit and tie showed me to a sitting room. It had a small table surrounded by six chairs. Soon, Pope Francis walked in—no wheelchair in sight.

I expressed my love and admiration for him, and passed along the same from a multitude of friends—Catholics, Protestants and others. And then I presented him with my porcelain cross, eight inches long and colored blue and gold, similar to his coat of arms.

We spoke of ministry to the LGBTQ+ community. I put in a plug for the Discerning Deacons movement (restoring the Diaconate for women as in the early Church). We also chatted about restorative justice. As we left the room, Pope Francis beckoned to a Swiss Guard to take our picture.

Fr. James Radde, SJ, with Pope Francis.
Fr. James M. Radde, SJ, with Pope Francis
Fr. James Radde, SJ, presented Pope Francis with a cross.
Fr. Radde presented Pope Francis with a cross he made for him.

While in Rome, I stayed at the Canisio (St. Peter Canisius Residence), an international community of Jesuits just two blocks from the Vatican. I had never lived with such a variety of Jesuits. Many worked at Vatican Radio, and they were most gracious in their hospitality.

Staying in that community allowed me to meet three of my Jesuit heros. One was Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, who served as director of the Vatican Press Office under three popes. Another was Fr. Francisco de Roux, SJ, who is from Colombia and chairs the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition. The third was Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia and grew up in Canada. I met him there in 1971, when we worked on a retreat team together. Today, he is Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, a dicastery being the equivalent of a government ministry.

I returned to St. Paul deeply grateful for my brother Jesuits, especially Pope Francis.

Fr. James M. Radde, SJJames M. Radde, SJ, is the Associate Director of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1960 and was ordained in 1972.