Jesuits’ global meeting gets down to business


Don Doll, S.J.

Two Jesuits look over meeting materials in the aula, or meeting room, Oct. 20 at General Congregation 36. The global meeting of Jesuits will make governing decisions for the next several years. Photo credit: Courtesy of General Congregation 36

Colleen Dulle

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. The Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., a Venezuelan, is the Society of Jesus’ first Latin American leader.

The Rev. Ron Mercier, S.J., head of the Jesuits’ Central and Southern Province, which includes New Orleans, has worked with Sosa before.

“He’s a man who loves to laugh,” 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. Mercier said he learned then that Sosa thinks deeply about today’s problems, a sentiment the Rev. 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,” 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 Sosa’s first homily, on Oct. 15, he emphasized “reconciliation with the world,” a main idea from the last general congregation.

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,” 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 yet, though the process is moving more quickly this year because the delegates worked together on first drafts online before meeting.

Greene said the delegates meet at 9 a.m. and wrap up after 6 p.m. each day.

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

Mercier said one of the main issues the congregation is considering now 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,” Mercier said.

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.

Francis told the delegates to do three things:

  1. To ask insistently for consolation, the deep spiritual joy St. Ignatius taught about.
  2. To let themselves be moved to mercy by the image of Jesus on the cross and by those suffering in the world.
  3. To do good, led by the Holy Spirit, and to think with the church.

More updates on the congregation and Pope Francis’ full address are available at