Fr Diego Fares, SJ 

By Paolo Ondarza

July 21 2022

The Jesuit priest died on Tuesday in Rome, aged 66, after a long illness. He was a writer for La Civiltà Cattolica since 2016, and is remembered by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the review, as a companion “extraordinary in wisdom, humour and strength.”

“Close to the people, close to Jesus.” This communion of thought with Pope Francis was constant in the life and activity of Father Diego Fares, an Argentine Jesuit and writer for La Civiltà Cattolica, who died on Tuesday at the San Pietro Canisio Jesuit Residence in Rome at the age of 66, after a long illness.

Fr. Diego had been welcomed into the Society of Jesus by the then provincial Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1976, who later became his spiritual director and a constant point of reference.

Until his last days, the Holy Father expressed his closeness to Fr. Diego, visiting him for the last time on 10 July.

In an interview with Vatican News in 2018, Fr. Diego said that “in closeness to the people, we play out whether Jesus will be made present in the life of humanity or whether he will remain on the plane of ideas, closed in block letters, embodied at best in some good habits that little by little become routine.”

An intellectual with rolled-up sleeves

Father Fares was born in Mendoza, Argentina, on August 9, 1955. He studied at the Colegio Maximo de San Miguel and was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 12, 1986.

He focused his doctoral thesis in Philosophy on the phenomenology of truth in Hans Urs von Balthasar, which, in 1994, he defended at the Universidad del Salvador (USAL). He was a lecturer of Metaphysics at the same university and he also lectured at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.

His academic activity was always accompanied by his pastoral commitment in the preaching of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and his presence among the poor. In fact, he worked for about 20 years in Buenos Aires with a team of more than a hundred laypeople at the “House of St. Joseph” (El Hogar de San José), a shelter for adults living on the streets or in extreme poverty, and at the “House of Goodness” (Casa de la Bontad), a hospice for the terminally ill founded by Jesuit Father Ángel Rossi, with whom he wrote several books.

“He could always be counted on.”

In 2016, he began his work as a writer for La Civilità Cattolica, where, as the website of the Jesuit review reads, “he knew how to combine pastoral and intellectual wisdom,”… “with passion and without sparing himself.”

“Diego,” wrote the editor, Father Antonio Spadaro on Twitter, “was a unique Jesuit companion, extraordinary in wisdom, humour, strength. One could always count on him because he was able to be happy without thinking of himself, but of the Lord of his life.”

The Bishops’ Conference of Argentina also mourned the death of Father Diego. In a statement, the Bishops prayed for his eternal rest, and prayed “that he may help us from heaven to be good and fruitful communicators like him.”

In addition to writing as a contributor to philosophy and spirituality journals, Father Fares edited “Contemplations of the Gospel” (Contemplazioni del Vangelo) blog for years. Notable among his many publications are “Come goccia su una spugna. Papa Francesco maestro di discernimento”, “Il programma della felicità. Le Beatitudini con papa Francesco”, “Aperti alle sfide. Proposte per la formazione alla vita religiosa e sacerdotale”, “Il profumo del pastore. Il vescovo nella visione di papa Francesco” and “Papa Francesco è come un bambù. Alle radici della cultura dell’incontro”.

Also significant was the Pope’s decision during the Chrism Mass in March 2018 to gift Fr. Diego’s book “10 things Pope Francis proposes to priests” to priests.

Taking care of the sheep

“Pope Francis’ invitation to be shepherds, to have the smell of the sheep and not be princes or pilots,” comes from 40 years ago, from when we were novices and students and he was our provincial and later rector, Father Fares recounted in a 2015 interview with Vatican Radio.

Fr. Diego remembered a companion walking through the vegetable garden of the Massimo College, where there were pigs, cows and sheep, and he saw that Bergoglio, the rector, was helping a sheep give birth. His companion was surprised and offered his help to Bergoglio. The ewe had rejected one lamb of the three she had given birth to. Bergoglio thought for a moment, took that lamb and handed it over to him, saying, ‘Take care of it!’ When the companion asked how to go about taking care of it, Bergoglio told him to go to the infirmary, warm up some milk and give it to the lamb with a bottle.’

For five months, this student had the lamb in his room, which took on the smell of sheep… The lamb followed him around the house, all the way to church and into the classrooms. Bergoglio told him, “I have put you to test and you have learned that if you take care of it, the sheep will follow you. This is what you must do.”

Vatican News