With new Father General, Jesuits chart course for future

The Jesuits’ 36th General Congregation is now in full swing, with the group of delegates having elected a new global superior and now making some of the decisions that will lead the society for years to come.

The General Congregation began Oct. 2 in Rome and, on Oct. 14, elected a new superior general. Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa, a Venezuelan, is the Society of Jesus’ first Latin American leader.

Jesuit Father Ron Mercier, head of the Jesuits’ Central and Southern Province, which includes New Orleans, has worked with Father Sosa before.

“He’s a man who loves to laugh,” Father Mercier said in a phone interview from Rome. “He’s a very warm and gracious man, and so when you meet him, he engages you. He chats. You know, there’s a real personal warmth.”

The two worked together at the last general congregation in 2008. Father Mercier said he learned then that Father Sosa thinks deeply about today’s problems, a sentiment Father Tom Greene, a delegate from this province, echoed.

“He is a good listener, one who listens well before speaking, and he also has the ability to raise contentious issues while seeking common ground,” Father Greene said.

When a new superior is elected, he celebrates Mass for the congregation, and his homily there traditionally sets the tone for the rest of his time as superior.

In Father Sosa’s first homily Oct. 15, he emphasized “reconciliation with the world,” a main idea from the last general congregation.

“There’s a real sense of intellectual depth,” Father Mercier said about Father Sosa. “He is a man who really thinks through things deeply. … He’s a very spiritual man and it shows itself in that he cares about immigration and victims of poverty. He’s a man who puts his beliefs into practice.”

Father Greene said that the decrees the congregation makes in the next few weeks will plan how the Jesuits will practice that reconciliation. Some speculate that it will have to do with the migrant crisis and the environment.

“At this point, I believe Father General is trying to listen to the various voices on the floor at G.C. 36 before giving his thoughts on future directions for reconciliation efforts,” Father Greene said in an email from Rome.

Now, the congregation is working to chart that course, producing governing documents for the society. None have been released, though the process is moving quicker this year because the delegates worked together on first drafts online before meeting.

Father Greene said delegates meet at 9 a.m. and wrap up after 6 p.m. daily.

“It involves a lot of sitting!” Father Greene said.

Father Mercier said one of the main issues the congregation is considering is the society’s governance, which is divided into regional provinces. The society struggles with how to govern some of their projects, like the global Jesuit Refugee Service, that span multiple provinces.

“We really need to figure out, in very large provinces but also across province lines, how we collaborate together, how we share resources, etc., etc. Those are questions that have been bubbling for years, but we really need to help move them along,” Father Mercier said.

Father Mercier said the best part of the general congregation is rallying Jesuits from all over the world. “You get a flavor of the richness of Jesuits throughout the world.”

John Sebastian, vice president for Mission and Ministry at Loyola, is on the committee that will implement the congregation’s decisions locally. He said the committee is waiting to make plans until the decrees that will guide them are released.

“The next few days and weeks will be a very busy time for the Jesuits gathered in Rome but a period of patient waiting for most of us onlookers,” Sebastian said.

The Jesuits had a break from their deliberations on Oct. 24 to hear from Pope Francis. Popes traditionally speak with Jesuit general congregations, but this is the first time the pope himself has been a Jesuit.

Pope Francis told the delegates to do three things: to ask insistently for consolation – the deep spiritual joy St. Ignatius taught about; to let themselves be moved to mercy by the image of Jesus on the cross and by those suffering in the world; and to do good, led by the Holy Spirit, and to think with the church.

Updates on the congregation and Pope Francis’ full address are available at gc36.org.

Colleen Dulle is a senior at Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached atcolleen.dulle@gmail.com.

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