Pope Benedict XVI reminded members of the Jesuit religious order Saturday of their vow of obedience to the pontiff and said their main job was to interact with modern culture.
Benedict made the comments following a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in honor of the Jesuits, who are marking several anniversaries surrounding the founder of the order, St. Ignatius Loyola, and other prominent members.
Benedict told the prelates that Loyola was a faithful servant of the church.
"And it was from this desire to serve the church in the most useful and efficient way that the vow of special obedience to the pope was born," Benedict said.
The Jesuits are renowned for their intellectual rigor and excellent teachers, scholars and scientists. Founded in 1540, the Society of Jesus is the largest religious order in the Roman Catholic Church, with 20,170 Jesuits around the world as of 2004.
Benedict said that because of their background, the Jesuits had an important job in nurturing "a dialogue with modern culture," which he said had made great progress in science but was sorely tested by materialism.
The Vatican has had a sometimes tense relationship with the Jesuits.
In a highly publicized incident, Pope John Paul II named a temporary replacement to lead the order after Rev. Pedro Arrupe suffered a crippling stroke in 1981, brushing aside Arrupe's choice for an interim leader in an unprecedented change-of-command.
Arrupe, who died in 1991, had pushed for the church to move for a more socially just world while remaining faithful to papal authority.
But during his tenure, some Jesuits, especially in the United States and the Netherlands, had questioned papal pronouncements on birth control, priestly celibacy and the ban on female priests.
Earlier this year, the order announced that its general superior, Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, would retire in 2008 and that the order would convene a meeting of representatives from around the world to elect his successor, reports AP.