“Always be a father!” My take on fr. Arturo Sosa, General of the Jesuits

2016-10-19-13-43-54Arturo Sosa was my “desk companion” during the General Congregation.  He told me a few days before the start that he would be seated next to me.  In the days before his election, we talked of many things, some perhaps unimportant, others more serious.  I sensed, however, a person next to me with a lot of energy and serenity.  A resolved person, reconciled with life and his experience of the past.

On the day of the election, we had exchanged few words.  The climate was of silence and profound interior recollection.  I showed him the notebook in which I was taking some notes.  On the cover was imprinted a phrase of St Ignatius: “Go forth and set the world on fire”.  His comment was: “Yes.  But today the world is already in flames, and unfortunately in another sense…..”

14725645_10154516511092508_2815614404307365159_nOne day we spoke about Pope Francis.  He told me he met Jorge Mario Bergoglio during the 33rd General Congregation in 1983.  Arturo was just 35 years old:  he was very young to be a “congregation father”.  Bergoglio—who then was 47 years old—saw him as young and robust.  This is why he gave him a nickname: “potrillo”, that is “colt”.  The recommendation that the Pope made at the news of his election to the General was: “be courageous”.

The day of the election we were all dressed well.  He had on his suit and clergyman black that “stood out” well with his white mustache and hair.  I noted that both his beloved plaid shirts that he brought and the dark suit that he brought didn’t change his behavior.  So I’d always known him:  as a person capable of being himself and at ease in the most diverse situations.  The counting of the votes by now indicated that his election was imminent.  He was as serene before the beginning of the voting as he was the day before…  Almost without think I extended my arms to comfort him for the weight that was falling on his shoulders.  I realized that I was embracing him.  He, serene as before, just whispered something like:  “when the chicken is to be eaten, you need only to boil the water…”

14713697_10154527066927508_3208992864689140582_nEven after the gathering of the number of needed votes, he was not discomposed.  He continued to write something in his notebook.  Until, the vote counting concluded, a round of applause started and the hands of the brothers embracing him and applauding him had not completely surrounded him, I had time to whisper in his ear: “You are our Father General”, emphasizing with my voice the word “father”.  And then: “Always be a father”.

Arturo Sosa is then the new Father General of the Jesuits.  He is 68 years old and a Venezuelan.  We well know what strong tensions they have experienced in Venezuela, tensions that he has experienced first hand.  Venezuela is one of the “peripheries” about which Francis has talked.  The “black pope” is proof that the very peripheries where tensions simmer, can convey energies to put at the service in the center of the Church universal.  People like Arturo Sosa have experienced such tensions through which at the end the spiritual energy of their personality flows calm, serene, without tensions.  Mature.  People like him don’t have to prove anything to themselves.  They have already done so, perhaps.  They gambled.  They have now won and now lost.  They took the walls by headbutts. They have even had ideological passions arriving then at near nothingness in their inconsistency.  Thiers is no longer an ideological critique of ideology, but a hand-to-hand combat with the reasons why it’s worth spending (and sometimes losing) their lives.  Now these people like Sosa, like Bergoglio, can bear the weight well without taking to many measures.  They can even resist the bewitching bureaucracy of power by remaining themselves.

14716206_10154515891227508_6256879352948603279_nAnd Sosa, like Bergoglio, is from Latin America.  Their countries—Venezuela and Argentine—are certainly two different countries.  And moreover, they witness together that the Church of that subcontinent is a “source” Church, and not a reflection, capable of bearing mature fruit for the universal Church.  Also for that of the European Church, and without contrasts, because they have European roots in their blood:  Bergoglio in the Piedmont of Nonna Rosa, Sosa in the Spain of Santander of his maternal grandfather, a tailor passionate about bulls and bullfights, who died at 104 years of age.
In the homily at the beginning of his mandate, Arturo Sosa said of the Jesuits something which can cause all to reflect.  He said that we must leave the fears behind that we feel and we must be creative and audacious, we must take the bulls by the horn.  He understood that the problem is simple: we make mistakes because we act motivated by fear.   And then Sosa had the courage to say in his first homily as General:  “We also want to contribute to what today seems impossible: a Humanity reconciled in justice, that lives in peace in a common home well cared for, where there is a place for all of us because we recognize our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same and one only Father”.   He spoke of the “audacity of the impossible” that flows from faith.  Only a man who has gone through the ideologies knows that you must not be afraid of utopias if they are able to supply the gasoline to move forward in the building of a better world.  In a time in which one lives fears and disappointments, in a time in which you only take account of secure things, with few certainties at your disposal, Arturo Sosa invites us to not lose that healthy utopia that allows us to believe that the world is not destined to perdition and that it is possible to work to make it what the Lord wants it to be.

750x420x161015_gc36_thanksgiving_mass_arturo_sosa_sj_election_ie_250-750x420-jpg-pagespeed-ic-y63vnor4lrThis is why, deep down, Sosa was an intellectual—professor of the Theory of Politics and Rector of a university.  Because he wanted to understand how the world goes, how it functions, what makes it turn in the opposite direction in its orbits fixed by God’s plan.  He said in his first homily at the Church of the Gesù, dressed in the same liturgical vestments worn by Francis for his first Mass with the Jesuits: “Thinking to understand in depth the moment of human history that we live and to contribute to the search for alternatives to overcome poverty, inequality and oppression.  To not cease thinking to propose the pertinent questions to theology and to deepen the understanding of the faith that we ask the Lord to increase in us”.

He had written in 2008: “The Society of Jesus does not hide the complexities of the problems that afflict human beings and the multiple bridges that it is necessary to stretch to overcome the barriers between the social classes, ethnicities, religious differences or of gender and many others that prevent and block reconciliation among human beings.  One of the characteristic traits of the Society of Jesus since its foundation has a special importance: the commitment to the intellectual apostolate through which it can effectively contribute and fully understand the mechanisms and connections of real problems, a condition without which it is not possible to build the necessary bridges to facilitate reconciliation with others”.

But Arturo Sosa was not solely an intellectual.  He was and is a man of government.  He has participated in four General Congregations, and was Provincial of Venezuela, he served on the Council of Father Generale Adolfo Nicolás, and lastly he was responsible for the international houses of Rome.

Between local and international commitment, the key word for him was “frontier”.  He wrote: “The frontier in the life of persons and peoples is a challenging sign.  It represents the limits of reality itself or the limits of the other.  It represents, at the same time, the possibility of going beyond the initial limits, and moving towards less familiar areas and ideals.  It represents the challenge of transcending what we are, to draw closer to what we should be, and, finally, to open ourselves to the totally other, to God”.

Sosa’s discourses end up always in God.  You can easily understand him:  this man of government, this intellectual, this man of ignited and resolved tensions, is a man of God.  First of all he is a spiritual man who reminds the brothers who have elected him that they must have: “the whole heart that we want to have in tune with the Merciful Father”.

What is the Society of Jesus for Arturo Sosa?  We will understand that better in the near future.  For now it is enough to quote one of his dazzling definitions of eight years ago: un grupo mínimo para la magnitud de lo que se propone (“a minimum group for what is proposed”).14691964_10154517696227508_691428205635277744_o

(translation by Reyanna Rice from the original text in Italian)

 

 

 

The first homily of the General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa S.J., translated into English

750x420x161015_gc36_thanksgiving_mass_arturo_sosa_sj_election_ie_250-750x420-jpg-pagespeed-ic-y63vnor4lrOctober 15, 2016

Dearest brothers,

A few days ago, in this same Church of the Gesù, where the remains of St Ignatius and Father Arrupe rest,  Fr. Bruno Cadorè invited us to have the audacity of the improbable as the proper attitude of people of faith who seek to witness it in the complex current events of Humanity.  He invited us to leave fear behind and to row towards the open sea as the attitude for being both creative and faithful during the General Congregation.

Certainly, the audacity we need to be servants of the mission of Jesus Christ flows only from faith.  Consequently, our gaze is in the first place directed to God, because only one is your Father in heaven, as the passage of the Gospel we just heard reminds us.  And, as the Formula Instituti at n. 1 reminds us “(the Jesuit) as long as he lives, first of all, to keep before his eyes God and then the nature of this Institute”.  Or rather, it is our whole heart that we want to have in tune with the Merciful Father.

If our faith is like that of Mary, the mother of Jesus and the Mother of the Society of Jesus, our audacity can go even further and seek not only the improbable, but the impossible, because nothing is impossible with God as the angel Gabriel proclaims in the scene of the Annunciation (Lk 1:37).  It is the same faith as St Theresa of Avila or St Teresa of Jesus, whose remembrance we celebrate today.  Even she, fearlessly, trusted the Lord to undertake the improbable and the impossible.

We ask, then, of the Lord for this faith, so that we also can make ours, as the Society of Jesus, the word of Mary in answering the extraordinary call she received: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: may it be done to me according to your word.  As Ignatius and the first Companions, like so many of our brothers served and serve under the standard of the cross only at the service of the Lord and of his Church, we also want to contribute to what seems impossible today: a Humanity reconciled in justice, that lives in peace in a common home well cared for, where there is a place for all of us because we recognize our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same and one only Father.

Therefore, we reiterate today St Ignatius’ conviction in writing the Constitutions: The Society was not instituted by human means; and it is not through them that it can be preserved and increased, but through the grace of the omnipotent hand of Christ our God and Lord, in Him alone must be placed our hope.

With hope placed in God and only in Him, the General Congregation will continue its deliberations and will contribute to the responsibility to maintain well and develop the whole of this body (Cons. 719).

Maintaining and developing the body of the Society is closely bound to the depth of the spiritual life of each one of its members and of the community in which we share the life and mission with our companions.  At the same time it takes an extraordinary intellectual depth to think creatively the ways through which our service to the mission of Jesus Christ can be more effective, in the creative tension of the Ignatian magis.  Thinking to understand in depth the moment of human history that we live and to contribute to the search for alternatives to overcome poverty, inequality and oppression.  To not cease thinking to propose the pertinent questions to theology and to deepen the understanding of the faith that we ask the Lord to increase in us.

We are not alone.  As companions of Jesus, we too wish to follow the path of the incarnation, to become like the human beings who suffer the consequences of injustice.  The Society of Jesus will be able to develop only in collaboration with others, only if it becomes the least collaborator Society.  Beware of the language traps.  We want to increase collaboration, not only seek others who collaborate with us, with our works as if we do not want to lose the prestige of the position of the one who has the last word. We want to collaborate generously with others, within and outside of the Church, in the awareness, that comes from the experience of God, of being called to the mission of Jesus Christ, that does not belong to us exclusively, but that we share with so many men and women consecrated to the service of others.

In the journey of collaboration, with the grace of God, we even find new companions to also increase the number, always least to great that is, of collaborators with others invited to be part of this body.  There is no doubt regarding the need to increase our prayer and our work for vocations to the Society and to continue the complex commitment to offer formation that makes them true Jesuits, members of this multicultural body called to witness the wealth of interculturality as the face of humanity, created and in the image and likeness of God.

We take today for us the words of the apostle Paul: the God of perseverance and of comfort grant you to have towards one another the same feelings as Jesus Christ, so that with one mind and one voice we give glory to God, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Church of the Gesù in Rome October 15, 2016

(translation by Reyanna Rice. The original text is in Italian)

jesuitssymbol

 

La prima omelia del Generale dei Gesuiti, p. Arturo Sosa SJ

cuzcwltxgaayypoCarissimi fratelli,

pochi giorni fa, in questa stessa Chiesa del Gesù, dove riposano i resti di Sant’Ignazio e Pedro Arrupe, p. Bruno Cadorè ci ha invitati ad avere l’audacia dell’improbabile come l’atteggiamento proprio delle persone di fede che cercano di testimoniarla nella complessa attualità dell’Umanità. Ci ha invitati a lasciare indietro la paura e a remare verso il largo come l’atteggiamento per essere nello stesso tempo creativi e fedeli durante la Congregazione Generale.

Certo, l’audacia della quale abbiamo bisogno per essere servitori della missione del Cristo Gesù può sgorgare soltanto dalla fede. Perciò il nostro sguardo è in primo luogo indirizzato a Dio, perché uno solo è il Padre vostro, quello del cielo, come ci ricorda il brano del Vangelo appena ascoltato. E come ci ricorda la Formula Instituti al n.1: “(il gesuita)

faccia in modo di avere dinanzi agli occhi, finché vivrà, prima di ogni altra cosa, Iddio, e poi la forma di questo suo Istituto”. Anzi, è il cuore intero che vogliamo avere in sintonia col Padre Misericordioso, il Dio che è solo Amore, il nostro Principio e Fondamento. Il cuore di ciascuno di noi e anche il cuore del corpo della Compagnia.

Se la nostra fede è come quella di Maria, la mamma di Gesù e la Madre della Compagnia di Gesù, la nostra audacia può andare ancora più avanti e cercare non solo l’improbabile, ma l’impossibile, perché nulla è impossibile a Dio come proclama l’arcangelo Gabriele nella scena dell’Annunciazione (Lc 1,37). È la stessa fede di Santa Teresa di Avila o Santa Teresa di Gesù, la cui memoria celebriamo oggi. Anche lei, senza paura, si è fidata del Signore per intraprendere l’improbabile e l’impossibile.

Chiediamo, dunque, al Signore questa fede, perché possiamo fare anche nostre, come Compagnia di Gesù, le parole di Maria nel rispondere alla straordinaria chiamata ricevuta: ecco la serva del Signore: avvenga per me secondo la tua parola. Come Ignazio e i primi Compagni, come tanti confratelli che hanno militato e mìlitano sotto il vessillo della croce soltanto al servizio del Signore e della sua Chiesa, vogliamo anche noi contribuire a quanto oggi sembra impossibile: una Umanità riconciliata nella giustizia, che vive in pace in una casa comune ben curata, dove c’è posto per tutti quanti perché ci riconosciamo fratelli e sorelle, figli e figlie dello stesso e unico Padre.

Perciò ribadiamo anche oggi la convinzione di Sant’Ignazio nello scrivere le Costituzioni: Poiché la Compagnia non è stata istituita con mezzi umani, non può conservarsi né svilupparsi con essi, bensì con la mano onnipotente di Cristo Dio e Signor Nostro, in Lui solo è necessario riporre la speranza.

Con la speranza posta in Dio e soltanto in Lui la Congregazione Generale proseguirà le sue deliberazioni e contribuirà alla responsabilità di ben conservare e sviluppare tutto questo corpo (Cons. 719).

Conservare e sviluppare il corpo della Compagnia è strettamente legato alla profondità della vita spirituale di ciascuno dei suoi membri e delle comunità nelle quali condividiamo la vita e missione con i compagni. Allo stesso tempo ci vuole una straordinaria profondità intellettuale per pensare creativamente i modi attraverso i quali il nostro servizio alla missione del Cristo Gesù può essere più efficace, nella tensione creativa del magis ignaziano. Pensare per capire in profondità il momento della storia umana che viviamo e contribuire alla ricerca di alternative per superare la povertà, la ineguaglianza e la oppressione. Pensare per non smettere di proporre le domande pertinenti alla teologia e approfondire la comprensione della fede che chiediamo al Signore di aumentare in noi.

Non siamo soli. Come compagni di Gesù vogliamo anche noi seguire il cammino dell’incarnazione, diventare simili agli esseri umani che soffrono le conseguenze della ingiustizia. La Compagnia di Gesù potrà svilupparsi soltanto in collaborazione con altri, soltanto se diventa la minima Compagnia collaboratrice. Attenzione alle trappole del linguaggio. Vogliamo aumentare la collaborazione, non soltanto cercare altri che collaborino con noi, con le nostre opere perché non vogliamo perdere il prestigio della posizione di chi ha l’ultima parola. Vogliamo collaborare generosamente con altri, dentro e fuori dalla Chiesa, nella consapevolezza, proveniente dall’esperienza di Dio, di essere chiamati alla missione del Cristo Gesù, che non ci appartiene in esclusività, ma che condividiamo con tanti uomini e donne consacrati al servizio degli altri.

Nel cammino della collaborazione, con la grazia di Dio, troveremo anche nuovi compagni per aumentare anche il numero, sempre minimo per grande che sia, dei collaboratori con gli altri invitati a far parte di questo corpo. Non c’è nessun dubbio circa il bisogno di aumentare la nostra preghiera e il nostro lavoro per le vocazioni alla Compagnia e di continuare il complesso impegno di offrire la formazione che faccia di loro dei veri gesuiti, membri di questo corpo multiculturale chiamato a testimoniare la ricchezza della interculturalità come volto dell’umanità, creata a immagine e somiglianza di Dio.

Prendiamo dunque oggi per noi le parole dell’apostolo Paolo­: il Dio della perseveranza e della consolazione vi conceda di avere gli uni verso gli altri gli stessi sentimenti ad esempio di Cristo Gesù, perché con un solo animo e una voce sola rendiate gloria a Dio, Padre del Signore nostro Gesù Cristo.

Nella Chiesa del Gesù a Roma il 15 ottobre 2016