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Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus
Vocation stories

Michele Papaluca SJ

Filled up to the brim: an emptiness finally inhabited!

If I had to choose an image to introduce myself, I would choose that of the traveller, the pilgrim, the “caminante.” He who moves because he is searching, who is never satisfied, who knows that further than where he has arrived there is more.

Michele Papaluca SJ, gesuita

I would like to make my own a definition of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus: pilgrim of God’s will. Indeed!

I have been working for some years in the Eucharistic Youth Movement full time; and, like my founding father, I set out on a specific day, which I remember very well. The “land” from which I departed was the emptiness I carried within, although stimulated by great dreams, especially of justice, which, however, found no way to express themselves. It was an emptiness especially of faces, although I had a very rich relational life, even believing that I was serving God and the Church. Only life was getting out of hand.

I wanted to be on his side

My family was the cradle where I learned the art of being a man and how to mumble my first prayers, a school of life and faith. The Word of God, the Spiritual Exercises and a good spiritual father helped me find that longed-for face: Jesus, his way of life, poor, a traveller, his way of being on the side of the excluded, the marginalized. He, his Good News for everyone and first and foremost for the poor and excluded, were my promised land.

An encounter with the Word of God, listening to it and meditating upon it in the wake of Ignatian spirituality, and in particular the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, marked a turning point. Thanks to a wise Jesuit father, I learned to name my inner world and what was happening around me. I slowly discovered that my thirst for justice for my land still battered today by the absolute evil that is the Calabrian mafia, the ‘ndrangheta, and my passion for freedom and the service of the least, found full expression and fulfilment in the dreams of Jesus. Ultimately, not only did Jesus fascinate me, but his dreams were my dreams. Mine was an emptiness that was finally inhabited! I wanted to be on His side and live like Him.

Being a Jesuit priest

Joy was once again shining high in my sky. And this joy that I wanted to share with my brothers and sisters thus became a life project, present and “forever.” Choosing to be a priest in the Society of Jesus in poverty chastity and obedience, fully realized all the desires for beauty and justice that had stimulated me up to that moment.

Being a priest today for me is my way of being united with Christ in a very special way that finds its highest expression in the Eucharist celebrated daily and which becomes life, encounter and joyful service of others, especially young people.

A constant thought of mine is to “throw myself into relationships,” not to spare myself. Being a Jesuit priest allows me to do this by not only giving myself, but above all by giving the best of the Ignatian tradition of listening, caring, attention, spiritual discernment in proclaiming the Word of God.

Serving life

So, listening to others, seeing young hearts open to God’s gentle touch, or simply admiring the spectacle of brothers and sisters return to life, literally rising from the darkness of sin or from confusion and wasted lives, is one of the greatest joys of my apostolate. Something that is so tangible in the sacrament of reconciliation and spiritual accompaniment.

Serving life in others, letting it flourish through the Gospel, serving the Church, this for me is serving God and his greater glory. This for me is a form of justice: only a transformed heart can transform the world in which we live into a more just and supportive world. Jesus and his Good News can work this miracle.

Many reasons to give thanks

Even today, the Word of God, the intimate relationship with Him, the prayer that becomes more and more silent, essential, are the driving force of my existence, of what I do, of my relationships, of how I live all of this, despite my struggles and frailties. Above all, it is a relationship with a Person, indeed, with three Persons. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity used to say, “my Three.” “These Three,” the Father the Son the Holy Spirit, are my horizon, “the natural environment” in which I move, which gives me lifeblood, and from which I attempt to set off all my actions. This encounter gives flavour to everything else, gives it quality, and directs it.

Today I feel at home in the Society of Jesus, and I thank God for the gift of the priestly vocation. Being a priest and a Jesuit is not so bad: you have the world as your home, a certain and faithful Love, all humanity as your family and the acquisition of everything without owning anything.

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