Represent!

Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Jesuits in the Vatican and on Capitol Hill

Congressman Juan Vargas, (D-Chula Vista)
Congressman Juan Vargas, (D-Chula Vista) Courtesy KPBS

Pope Francis, who celebrated his first mass Tuesday morning in Rome, is the first Jesuit to head the Catholic Church. A congressman from San Diego might have found his way to Rome too, but instead is now serving in the nation’s capitol.

Democratic freshman Congressman Juan Vargas spent five years as a Jesuit. Had he continued with the religious order, perhaps that could have been him waving to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square.

"Well, that would have been a cool job!” Vargas said.

The congressman said the Jesuits taught him that you have to make changes for social justice. He worked with Central American refugees and became a lawyer working on political asylum cases.

Juan Vargas is not the only former Jesuit in California politics these days: Governor Jerry Brown is also a former novitiate from the order.

"The Jesuits are interesting people," Vargas said. "They’re very aggressive in the sense of trying to do great things for God. That’s sort of the mission of the Jesuits."

But Vargas said Jesuits aren't supposed to seek powerful positions.

"The only position actually you can seek is to be Novice Master because it's such a crummy job, to train these novices," said Vargas.

But he says Jesuits are "supposed to try to change the world and that’s why I think you see a lot of Jesuits involved in great things."

In Congress, Vargas wants to work on immigration reform. He thinks the new pope could play a role in the debate and he cites Matthew 25 – the same passage Pope Francis quoted in his first sermon, saying a pope is supposed to protect the hungry, the sick, and the stranger.

Vargas said churches are: "doing a very good job" of saying that's 'how you’re going to be judged, how you treat these strangers, how you treat the poor.'"

He says the Pope could "give great help right about now" as Congress debates immigration reform.

The Pope’s inaugural mass in Rome was attended by 132 official delegations, including more than a half-dozen heads of state from Latin America – home to 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.

With contributions by AP

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