The 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus opened in Rome on Sunday 2 October. The Irish Jesuit Provincial Tom Layden and John Guiney SJ, joined Jesuit delegates from around the world in a gathering where they will elect a new leader.
The Superior General, Fr Adolfo Nicolás, elected at GC35, resigned on Monday 3 October after eight years of service. He received many standing ovations in warm appreciation of his leadership before he resumed his seat back among the rank and file Jesuits at the congregation. He handed over the facilitation of the congregation to Fr James E. Grummer SJ, a Wisconsin Province Jesuit who has been General Counsellor of the Society since 2005.
GC36 formally opened with Mass in the Gesù Church in Rome at 5pm on Sunday 2 October. The Gesù Church is the mother Church of the Society of Jesus and holds the tomb of the founder, St Ignatius of Loyola.
Gerry Whelan SJ, who lectures in the Jesuit Gregorian University in Rome was also at the Mass and said, “The liturgy took over an hour and a half; yet it was simple, solemn and beautiful. A a Jesuit-related choir travelled especially from Slovakia to animate the liturgy. Scholastics and brothers, representatives from each of the continents, took part in various stages of the liturgy in the packed Gesù Church and it was inspiring to see the delegates processing in, including our three men, Tom Layden, John Guiney, and John Dardis. One realised that, in all probability, the next time we attend a Mass like this, one of these delegates will be presiding as the new Fr. General.”
Before the conclusion of the Mass, there was a solemn moment of prayer in front of the casket containing relics of Jesuit saints. The presidents of the six conferences each said a prayer in a language of the region: Mike Lewis, from Africa, in Zulu; Jorge Cela, from Latin America, in Spanish; George Pattery, from South Asia, in Bengali; Mark Raper, from Asia Pacific, and Tim Kesicki, from North America, in English; John Dardis, from Europe, in Irish.
Historian and archivist Brian Mac Cuarta SJ, Director ARSI, the central archives of the Jesuit order in Rome, confirmed that John Dardis’ prayer marked the first time in the Society of Jesus’ four hundred and seventy five year history, that Irish had been used at a General Congregation.
During the first week the delegates began discussing the current state of the Society in small groups of ten. They focussed on topics such as the overall situation of the world today, the situation of the Church in that world, and fidelity to the Society’s charism. They also discussed Vocation Promotion and Formation, Universal Mission in a Global Society, Jesuit Community Life, and Servant Leadership. Other topics included Cooperation and Networking between, and among, Levels, as well as Solidarity and Communion. These discussions culminated with a consideration of challenges facing the Society in the next ten years.
According to John Guiney SJ, “The great gift of these groups is not only a lively exchange of reflections on different matters relating to the identity and mission of the Society of Jesus but also encountering one another from different corners of the world. Such a variety of backgrounds, difference of cultures, riches of work experience makes these meetings so fruitful and life giving. The increasing demographic changes with the majority of delegates coming from the Southern Hemisphere brings new cultural perspectives in being a Jesuit today. Amidst the difference there is a unity and solidarity in companionship and mission”.
In his daily blog from Rome, John explained that there was another aspect to this group work in that it is also part of the preparatory work to help the delegates to get to know one another before the election of a new General. “It is an experience of the universality of the Society of Jesus and the depth and variety of service it renders to the people of God where it is present. It is indeed a privileged moment to witness this.”
According to John, delegates have struck by the growing presence of active members from provinces of the global south. “This is a real demographic shift,” he notes. “At GC35 this region already represented the majority (54%) of Jesuits. Now, however, their percentage has increased to represent 59% of the Congregation. Among other aspects, this reflects the growing number of vocations in Asia and Africa in these past years.”
In a video interview for the GC36 website John Dardis commented on the significance of the way Jesuits deliberate in a General Congregation. “We are not like a transnational company that makes needs analysis, evaluates challenges and designs strategies. We look at the needs of the world, but we try to look with the eyes of the Trinity, the compassionate gaze of God. We look at all these challenges: migration, poverty, indigenous people’s situations, secularisation, loss of faith. If we would look at them without the look of the Trinity, we would get disheartened. But the Trinity, with its compassion, is seeing us compassionately, with our limitations and our strengths. It is essential that we would have that perspective. Yes, we are trying to stand with Ignatius, with Francis Xavier, with Peter Faber and with the Trinity. Maybe it sounds pretentious but it is a prayerful stand towards the world and towards ourselves, and that is what is moving me during the entire experience of the Congregation.”
This week, from Monday 10 October, Jesuit delegates have begun a centuries-old practice called the ‘murmuratio.’ This entails four days of one-on-one conversation and information gathering. Its purpose it to prepare the delegation for the election of their new Superior General this coming Friday, October 14. The Jesuit who is chosen will lead the largest order of priests and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church. You can watch a video interview on the ‘murmuratio’ process here, with Jim Corkery SJ, who attended GC35. He gives a very interesting, behind the scenes insight into the Jesuit way of electing a leader. On Friday 14 October the delegates will begin the actual election by casting their votes. You can read further on what’s happening at this General Congregation on a dedicated section of the Irish Jesuit website or visit the GC36 website.