Ignatius, Jerusalem, and the Holy Land:
“The whole world will be my Jerusalem”
It is 1521. Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola lies on his bed recuperating from the fractures he suffered when he was struck below his right knee by a cannonball while leading the defence of the castle in Pamplona against a French army. He ponders, “What if I should do what Saint Francis did, and what Saint Dominic did?” When he thinks of going to Jerusalem barefoot and eating nothing but plain vegetables and practicing all the penances that he reads about the saints undergoing, not only is he consoled at the time but after putting them aside he remains satisfied and joyful.1 He concludes that making this pilgrimage is what God wants of him.
Two years later, on 31st August 1523, his dream comes true. He disembarks from a ship at the port of Jaffa and steps onto the Holy Land. Now he can imitate Jesus by visiting the same towns He did, and helping souls as He did. He spends three weeks visiting the holy places. Juan Alfonso de Polanco — Ignatius’s secretary when he was General — tells us that in the Holy Land Iñigo develops a plan: “To remain in that land for his own greater profit as well as that of the Muslims preaching the Christian faith and doctrine to them.”2
However, he is informed by the Franciscan superior — who has authority over Catholics in the Holy Land — that the situation is too dangerous. At the time, the Turks rule the Holy Land. Some pilgrims have been kidnapped, some killed, and others held for ransom which severely depletes the Franciscan Friars’ treasury. The superior orders Iñigo to leave and informs him that he has the power to excommunicate him if he refuses. Iñigo bows to legitimate ecclesial authority and obediently departs. Iñigo’s desire to live in the Holy Land is frustrated but, as we shall see, he is not defeated.
Ignatius then spends ten years getting a theological education at two universities in Spain (Alcala, Salamanca) and finishes with a Master of Arts from the University of Paris — at that time the leading university in Europe.
In 1534, Ignatius and his six companions make a vow to go to Jerusalem or, should that be impossible, to offer their services to the Pope. In June 1537 — almost fourteen years after he first goes to Jerusalem — Ignatius and his companions plan to sail to the Holy Land, but rumours of war and the threat from the Turks mean that no one dares sail to the East. They are disappointed especially as the new priests hope to celebrate their first Mass in the Holy Land.3 Instead they go to Rome where they present a proposal for a new religious Order, the Society of Jesus, to Pope Paul III, a proposal he accepts in 1540. Ignatius is elected Superior General of the new Order, and devotes the rest of his life to governance of what is to become known as the Jesuits.
Michael Ivens in an article titled “Desire and Discernment” comments:
Ignatius’ pristine desire to live as a pilgrim in the Holy Land would have died as an effective force had he not accepted first to be moved from the Holy Land and eventually to be persuaded by Pope Paul III that the wider world was a ‘true and good Jerusalem’, and thus to have his self-image as ‘pilgrim’ expanded into parameters utterly beyond the limits of his original desire.4
Ignatius can now say: “The whole world will be my Jerusalem!”
Dr Michael Smith SJ is lecturer in Ignatian spirituality at Australian Catholic University and helps to form spiritual directors in the Ignatian tradition in the Arrupe® Program. He walked the Camino Frances from Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela in 2011, led the first group to complete the Ignatian Camino from Loyola to Manresa Spain in 2013, and walked the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum in 2016.