· Personality · · T. Filomena Abreu and Maria Cruz

António Valério

«Being a priest means living to serve others»

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Priest Valério on mission in Bolivia

Simplicity might well be the characteristic that best describes him. But we could refer to so many others of his many attributes. He’s the friend of a friend, a perfectionist in everything he does, and of an enviable intelligence. António Manuel da Silveira Catana Valério, or Valério, to his friends, born in Idanha-a-Nova, a town in the district of Castelo Branco, always has a smile on his face. He is always ready to reach out to anyone who needs him, whether in a simple act of comfort, or even for advice. He grew up in a family that had a lot to do with the church, and it didn’t take him long to understand that his vocation lay in this direction. God’s calling spoke the loudest. He joined the seminary at 16. He became a priest in the Society of Jesus. Today, eight years later, he is a man who lives to God and of everyone surrounding him. Because being of service to others is what gives António Valério joy in his life. And because this issue is, in part, dedicated to the events of May 13, the day of Our Lady of Fátima, and of Pope Francisco’s visit to Portugal, we took time to talk to Valério and listen to what he had to tell us. The word «mission» – which Valério utters many times –, is the watchword of this interview with Villas&Golfe

When and what made you want to become a priest?
You could say that my vocation to the priesthood developed naturally. I grew up in a very religious family and involved in church life. There is, of course, a time at which questions are asked as to what you want to be and if happiness is pushing you towards certain options in life. In my case, I understood that being a priest meant living to serve others, helping them through life’s major moments, as priests have this mission to accompany and help people in their human life and life of faith. 

Why did you choose to be part of the Society of Jesus?
I joined the seminary at the age of 16 years but, at a given time, I learned of the Society of Jesus and what particularly caught my attention was the fact that Jesuits have diversity of places and situations as their mission field, such as the faith-culture dialogue; faith-science, social and missionary work; teaching and research in various areas of knowledge; dialogue between the various Christian denominations and other religions; evangelizing children and young people, along with the constant mobility (it’s very rare to be in the same mission for many years). This all saw me decide to become a Jesuit. 

P. L’osservatore Romano
Priest Valério with Pope Francisco

What stages does Jesuit formation involve?
Formation for a Jesuit (about 12 years to become a priest, and can reach 20 years, until his definitive integration in the Society) begin with the novitiate lasting two years, which is more of an ‘ad-intra’ time – in which the aim is for anyone entering the Society to get to know it well and for the Society to get to know them too. It is a time more devoted to prayer, to studying fundamental texts of the Society, during which we learn what it means to be a Jesuit and what religious life is, not just in theory, but in practice, helped by trainers and the rest of the community. At the end of these two years, you take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Then you study for a degree in philosophy. The following stage is known as ‘Regency’ – in which the young Jesuit lives with Jesuits that have already been through their formation and develops a range of activities with the institutions and people this community serves. Then we return to study and do a degree course in theology, for five years. After these studies, you become ordained as a priest and you return to your own country to start your mission life. After a few years of apostolic work, you take a break of between six and nine months to do the so-called Tertianship – which is what I’m doing at the moment. Training ends when the final vows are conceded to the Jesuit, of poverty, chastity and obedience and a fourth vow of the Society, which is the vow of Obedience to the Pope in matters regarding missions, definitively becoming part of the Society. 

You are currently in the final stage of formal formation. Can you tell us about this experience? 
I am with 11 other Jesuits from various countries doing our Tertianship, in Bolivia. With studies completed and several years of mission behind us, we take this break for six months, formation in which we revisit the essentials of what it is to be a Jesuit and deepening the mission of the Society of Jesus, which each of us wants to do as generously as possible. It is a time of prayer and study, but where contact with the Bolivian people is very present, in particular the most fragile social situations. In this sense we also work in poorer and disadvantaged communities, both in urban environments and in more isolated mission environments. Discovering this culture has been very exciting, being in contact with poorer, simpler people, with their way of living faith, in which very interesting traditional native elements have been incorporated. Contact with poverty and social issues is also an area of experience and reflection for the future mission, in terms of finding ways of overcoming poverty and injustice; an attitude at the core of the gospel.

What will happen when you finish your Tertianship and return to Portugal?
I am available for any mission that is given to me, but, in my case, and if there are no further developments, it is planned that I will continue the mission I had before coming. I am the director of the National Secretariat of the Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network in Portugal, the mission of which is to foster life of prayer and formation and Christian commitment in parishes, in particular through publishing (books and magazines) and digital prayer projects, which have proved highly successful, such as; and; instruments that disclose every month the challenges (or intentions) that the Pope gives to the world and to the mission of the Church.

P. L’osservatore Romano
Priest Valério whit Pope Francisco

Has there been a demystification of the Society of Jesus since the world has had a Jesuit Pope?
I wouldn’t say demystification, but certainly a greater awareness of what the Society is, of what its mission is and something that can be seen in the speeches and gestures of Francis, along with this extraordinary personal charisma: a concern for the renovation and updating of the structures and language of the church, for a greater service to the gospel, closer proximity to more fragile social and human realities and a constant call to distinguish ways for the church’s presence in the challenges that the world, with all the complexity it has, places at the presence of the Christian message today. 

The Pope is coming to Portugal to attend the ceremonies for the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. Besides this, he will canonise the shepherd children. How does the Society see the ‘issue’ of Fátima and what have Jesuits in Portugal reacted to this news?
The Society of Jesus has always kept up a keen interest in the matter of Fátima, inasmuch as the church has also been recognising its place within the life of the Church in Portugal. Many Jesuits have dedicated themselves to studying and divulging the message of Fatima and every year many activities and pilgrimages to Fatima, especially with young people, are organised. The news of the canonisation of the shepherd children is, naturally, welcomed with great joy, as they are models of a notable transparency of the gospel, in the simplicity of the life of these children.

Within the Church itself there are many theories as to what actually happened in Fátima one hundred years ago. Shouldn’t the Church be unanimous on these matters?
The Church is unanimous in this matter: firstly at the diocesan level, in the years immediate subsequent to the apparitions; then at a national level; and finally, at the level of the Popes themselves, including John Paul II, who was of unrivalled importance in this as he always valued the content and the effects that the message, which Our Lady gave to the shepherd children, has on Christians and all around the world. There are people within the Church that view Fatima with some suspicion, but, in my opinion, they are more personal impressions than something thought about a message as deep as that of Fátima. The risk is to always exaggerate a perspective, without taking everything into account and, above all else, its human and spiritual rewards, which are very abundant in Fátima.

The Superior General of the Jesuitsis is sometimes referred to as the Black Pope. Why?
We have to separate what, historically, could be applied to this expression and the negative connotation that has been given to it, especially in time of persecution, when (in Portugal, since the Marques of Pombal until the 1st Republic) great campaigns were waged against Jesuits. Since its foundation, when Ignatius of Loyola thought of group of religious men well prepared to be in the direct service of the Pope, for missions which he wished to put them on. And so, they were sent to missions of great importance and influence, alongside kings, at universities and in the world of culture, in the mission of the Orient, and in the New World. This importance of the Society earned the Superior General this title, which doesn’t have anything to do with reality or with what the Society thinks about itself. The Superior General of the Jesuits is not a power at the side of the Pope, rather a representative of a religious order, which serves the Pope. As to the ‘Black’, this was because the Superior General of the Jesuits wore black robes, like other priests, which contrasts with the white robes of the Pope. 

T. Filomena Abreu and Maria Cruz
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