Pope Francis at the General Congregation of the Jesuits: a historic event

161024_gc36_pope_francis_visit_ie_1-750x420-1The petrine ministry of a Jesuit: a positive challenge for the Society

The Pope entered naturally like a Jesuit father among others.  But his white cassock marked a visible difference.  But it did not take away the perception that there is a deep bond between us and him.  We began by praying.

A historic event: this was the encounter of General Congregation of the Jesuits with Pope Francis.  The first to be aware of this event was precisely Father General Arturo Sosa who asked the Jesuits to prepare themselves spiritually for this encounter.  It’s never happened that there was a Jesuit Pontiff intervuenes at a General Congregation of the Jesuits.  His discourse then assumes for the Society a truly strong, special value.  But, even before his discourse, it is the presence of the Pope itself to have an extremely meaningful value, also for its unusual modality: an audience in the Hall of the Congregation itself which lasted for hours of free and spontaneous encounter in an open and relaxed climate, as perhaps had not happened for a long time.

The Society is taking greater awareness that the petrine ministry is today carried out by a person formed in its womb and its spirituality, that of discernment.  Many characteristics of the current pontificate, moreover, are understandable in their roots only by considering the spirituality in which the Pontiff grew humanly and spiritually.  Therefore, Francis represents a positive challenge for the Society, and a specific incentive of prayer, reflection and assumption of responsibility. 

Pope Francis visits delegates of General Congregation 36.
Pope Francis visits delegates of General Congregation 36.

A “blurred” portrait of the Society of Jesus

The Pope began his discourse by painting a portrait of the Society.  That it is not a “still life” but a multifaceted framework and in motion.  The Society itself—he said—is “in progress”, in becoming.  This makes it flexible, freely elastic.  He immediately framed it—also in the light of his predecessor’s statements—in journey as free and obedient people.  And you walk only if you truly get down on the street.  The Society cannot balconear, as he once said:  you cannot look at reality from a balcony, study it, analyze it and, still from the balcony, sentence it.  We must enter inside it, stay at the crossroads of history, at the social front lines, there where there is the «confrontation between the deepest desires of the human person and the perennial message of the Gospel», as Pope Paul VI said.  Reflection, contemplation and action are always together if we do not want to be ideological.

Not fixed objectives but mobile horizons

But it is not enough to walk.   Where must you go?   In his discourse to the Congregation, Francis implicitly warned us about holding too many clear and distinct objectives as in business planning.  The horizon that orients the journey is the Glory of God who is always greater, he said.  That is: the Society must walk having before itself a horizon that changes continually and enlarges.  The portrait of the Society painted by the Pope is then dynamic, «incomplete» in itself and «open».  The Jesuits are called not to «reach objectives» like in a shooting gallery, but to walk, evangelically accompanying the processes in which human beings are involved and having as a horizon line the glory of God.  Accompanying horizons not conquering spaces.   It is, in essence, walking with the Lord Jesus:  we are called to walk with him and to go where he goes.  And at times we don’t even know where he is going.  We discover it by walking, ready to change direction, moves and methods with him.  Only if the Society walks with Jesus towards the horizon is it able to understand itself.  The Society is mobile.  This is why for the Jesuit, any place in the world is home.  If it is not he becomes «functionalist» and rigid: he is tangled,  that is he begins to concentrate turning round and round himself but at the end uselessly.

Only one «priority»: discernment

This walking however is a journey neither comfortable nor solitary.  It is not a journey to find oneself, not even for one’s own personal salvation.  Francis tells us that to walk in Ignatius’ words means first of all «to labour strenuously in giving aid toward the salvation and perfection of the souls of their neighbours” (General Examen, I, 2). The Pope seems to favor the original «Formula of the Institute», that of Paul III of 1540, Regimini militanti Ecclesiae, that puts as the focus before the Society that of concerning itself «in the progress of souls in life and in Christian doctrine».  Therefore, the Pope doesn’t entrust to the Society objectives or preferences if they are not for the «progress of souls».  He does not provide lists of works to be carried out or objectives to reach or territories to «conquer».  Rather he simply says that the Society «is where it needs to be».  Although with prophetic and diplomatic audacity.  And where is that?  The answer is that the content of the mission is the fruit of a continuous discernment and always in development.  The center remains the «Formula of the Institute»:  the rest belongs to history, to becoming, to the circumstances.  The Society lives and must live tensions, it is restless.  Francis wants to touch the beating heart, the hot and powerful core of the Society’s charism, the «Formula» exactly:  he removes the layers that protect it and he shows the Jesuits the essentials to remember.  The Pope speaks of a return to the heart, or rather of a «fire».  And he quotes one of the first Jesuits, Fr. Jeronimo Nadal, who said: «The Society is fervor» derived from the Latin fervor, that is «boiling».


Three ways of taking steps forward

This much said, the Pope provides as well three «ways of proceeding» for the mission that he summarizes in three words: «consolation», «compassion» and «feeling with the Church».  The expression used by Francis is of note: podemos dar un pasito adelante that is «we can take a step forward».  It is not the invitation to take the «long jump», but to take a step at a time, one after the other.  But always adelante, forward.   There is a progress to which we are always called, and that is to do with humility and decision.  Here’s the three ways:

  1. Consolation. We live in a wounded world and the Jesuit is also a wounded man.  The world is often moved by fear and reacts lending an ear to the desolations and fears.  For Francis only if we experience the restoring strength of consolation in the heart of our wounds—both as people and as the Society—can we wake up from our torpor, walking and helping others.   Then we must ask for consolation—the Pope says—«insistently».  The usual state of the Jesuit must be consolation.  This is the experience Francis invites us to make, then: to let ourselves be consoled by God and to live our ministry as a minister of consolation bringing into the world reconciliation, justice, mercy.  And in this Francis himself was a model speaking in his higher magisterial texts of guadium, laudation, and laetitia, that are synonyms of consolation for him.  And he adds: for the Pope «the nearest human attitude to God’s grace is humor».
  1. Compassion. The Pope asks us to let ourselves by moved by the crucified Lord and standing at the foot of the cross to feel ourselves loved by him.  This is the experience that leads us to be sensitive to the pain of humanity, to experience compassion.   «Where there is pain, there the Society is» said Father Arrupe.  Only if we experience the healing strength of the compassion of Jesus crucified can we be healed and heal others.  This pushes us to commitment for justice and to be with the poor and for their part.
  1. Discernment «feeling» with the Church. The Pope asks us to proceed doing our discernment «feeling with the Church», our Mother.  There are many ways to reform the Church, but some of these ways are anti-ecclesial, fruit of the «bad spirit».  Instead, Francis says that it is not enough to reform the Church because it would be an ideological operation and therefore «clerical».  We need to do it with the «good spirit», fruit of discernment, in an «ecclesial» manner.   The Jesuit must be within the Church that lives in history not that of our utopias and our desires.  And at times that involves even making us carry our cross and experience humiliation.  We also need to listen to all the criticisms, even those that are malicious, and to discern.  We must never close doors.  This is not to justify questionable positions, but to leave the space open to what the Spirit is doing or what he will do in his time.  The Jesuit acts within the Church trusting the action of the Spirit within it.

Companions in journey….

At the end of this discourse, Francis turns to Mary with the appellation of «Our Lady of the Street».  The Society is not only a group of men with the same ideals, but a group of friends who are on the street in journey with Jesus, a step at a time.

At the end of our encounter, the words of a letter of Ignatius on the occasion of the election of the Pontiff Marcello in April 1555 came to mind: «To Our Lord God, who wanted to give to his Church such a leader, please increase in him a great spirit, as it is necessary in so high a ministry».


(translation by Reyanna Rice from the original text

Who are the Jesuits?  Between tensions and militancy

12662677_10153857833672508_8503738987257899039_n-740x493The 36th General Congregation of the Jesuits is under way in Rome.  This assembly is the summit of the organizational structure of the Society of Jesus, and is composed of all the Provincials in charge and delegates from every religious province.  The Congregation has elected the new Father General, Fr. Arturo Sosa.  The other great task of the Congregation is to reflect on the life and mission of the Society in light of the «signs of the times».  The history of the Society is not a history of abstract ideas, but of people immersed, for their mission, in the world.  Therefore, the Society must read reality with discernment and understand how God moves in it and what he asks of us today for the «progress of souls».  The 36th General Congregation is also the first to go on under a Pontiff who is a member of the same Order, who lives a special bond of obedience to the «successor of Peter and vicar of Christ on earth», as St Ignatius usually called him.

14590462_10154502517587508_6805479485441573727_nBut who are the Jesuits?  Any historic experience that involves human beings is difficult to define because it is rich in life experienced.   It is difficult, then, to talk in abstract terms about what a “society” of men is that, for almost 500 years, moves in the world with a common spirituality, but with many differences of culture, language, and origins among them.  It is, first of all, a group of men: men who feel called to live a common venture because they have had a profound spiritual experience.  This experience has moved them to concern themselves with two fundamental things: the «propagation of the faith» and the «progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine», as stated in the «formula of the Institute» approved for the first time by Paul IV in 1540.

In advancing its mission, the Society has not expressed a negative militancy as if it must combat an enemy or oppose a world perceived as irredeemably marked by evil.  Suspicion and mistrust have never prevailed in the Society.  To the contrary, since the beginning, where the Jesuits are found—both in Europe and in the missions—they have had a fertile relationship with cultures, even learning the languages and appreciating humanism, especially with their pedagogy.  The motto that has guided them is that of Ignatius:  «seeking God in all things».

14568002_10154497774367508_874007554631623435_nTheir proverbial «militancy», then?  It was understood and expressed well by Paul VI, then reappropriated both by Benedict XVI and Francis: «Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme field, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the front line of social conflict, there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of the human person and the perennial message of the Gospel, there too, there have been, and there are, Jesuits».

In the “guts” of the spirituality of the Society there is instead the intuition of a beyond, of a «more», of a magis, as it says in Latin .  It grows in the praise of the glory of God, in the good, in positive action, in the desire for a more just and better world…  This is why the militancy is expressed «under the standard of the Cross».  The Society has, since the beginning, the seed of a «leaving», of a path forward.

notic-113For this reason Pope Francis, in the interview that he did for La Civiltà Cattolica in August of 2013 told me that «the Society is an institution in tension, always fundamentally in tension.   A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself.  The Society itself looks to a center outside itself».  And he continues: «The Society must always have before itself the Deus semper major, the always greater God, the pursuit of the ever greater glory of God» and «this tension takes us out of ourselves continuously».  The Jesuit, therefore «must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking»: «the Jesuit always thinks, again and again, looking at the horizon toward which he must go, with Christ at the center.  This is his real strength. And that pushes the Society to be searching, creative and generous».

sacred_heart_1770-1The history of the Jesuits is determined by this tension, and is nevertheless a history of attempts and even mistakes.  In its history, there is a lot of heroism and a lot of creativity, but there is also misery and infidelity to the Gospel, as in any group of human beings.  But so many people flourished precisely in this history.  Among them, there are at least 50 «saints» and about 150 «blessed»


(translation by Reyanna Rice of the original post)

“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)