The Chapel of Conversion: the Past, Present and Future of the Society of Jesus
By Robert Ballecer, SJ*
Approach the “Santuario de Loyola” in Spain, and you’re immediately greeted by a great basilica that dominates the landscape. Walk further onto the campus and you’ll find a museum in the remains of Castle Loyola filled with relics, stained glass and artwork from the time of St. Ignatius. Even further and you’ll come upon a nondescript room on the top floor - past an ancient staircase, an aged bannister and a door with a wrought-iron latch that has stood the test of time. This room, unassuming and seemingly unimportant, has been the source of incredible consolation and challenge for the delegates of the 71st Congregation of Procurators.
The Chapel of Conversion
In this room, with its dark wooden beams and
leaden windows, Ignatius of Loyola recovered from his grisly wounds received at
the battle of Pamplona. Spirit beaten and body shattered, Ignatius of Loyola
hovered near death for months, crying out against the cruel fate that saw his
dreams of glory and honor at court all-but-extinguished. Sitting in the musty
silence, the occasional creak of the centuries-old floor the only
accompaniment, you can almost hear his anguished screams of pain and despair,
the hushed footsteps of doctors and attendants rushing about to save his life,
a life that he no longer recognized.
To one end of the chapel is an altar and a statue of Ignatius, perhaps in the same corner where the man huddled centuries ago. All Jesuits know the story. We’ve heard and reflected upon it thousands of times throughout our lives, but to see it - to be in the same sacred space where Ignatius recovered, raged, reconciled, converted, and finally accepted - is to feel not just the history of the room, but its call today to those who come seeking consolation and clarity.
Above the altar, on one of the great beams is an inscription, both in Basque and Spanish, reading: “AQVI SE ENTREGÓ A DIOS INIGO DE LOYOLA”, - “Here, Ignatius of Loyola surrendered to God”. Truly, it is surrender that this room demands. The delegates of CP71 are invited to bring in their desires and expectations for the Congregation the wisdom that they carry from months of listening to their Jesuit brothers and lay colleagues. But as they enter the room they are asked - just as was Ignatius - to be prepared to surrender: to be converted, to let expectations fall away and see not just themselves or their Provinces, but the needs of the Worldwide Society of Jesus, and the Church it serves.
Centuries ago, the Chapel of Conversion was the place where St. Ignatius answered God’s call to set the world on fire. Today, that room is where his sons go forth to keep that fire burning.
* Robert Ballecer is a Jesuit priest working in the Communications
department of the Jesuit Curia in Rome. He is part of the team covering the 71st
Congregation of Procurators.
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