Thursday, January 10, 2008
Jesuits in Rome: Looking for a Leader
Fr. Sumita, the Japanese Provincial, and Fr. Kolvenbach, the General, during the latter's visit to Sophia University in 2005
Two hundred and twenty-five Jesuit representatives or delegates from around the world are currently gathered in Rome for the historical 35th General Congregation (GC 35) of the Society of Jesus. Some of these are representatives elected by their peers, but many are regional officials of the Order. Their average age is around 56. There are 75 delegates from Europe, 43 from South Asia. 40 from Latin America, 30 from North America, 18 from Africa, and 19 from East Asia and Oceania.
This particular Congregation, GC 35, is unique because for the first time in the history of the Jesuits, the incumbent General will solemnly resign and let another man take charge. The Jesuits have always had their General serve until his death, but in recent times they have considered allowing him to retire after a certain age. When the previous General, Pedro Arrupe, wanted to retire, he was stopped from doing so, but later on an incapacitating stroke and the Papal intervention gave him a providential break to get his wish. For all we know, the current General, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, is in good health despite being close to 80 and seems capable of governing for several more years. Sensing the signs of the times, however, he has proposed stepping down in favor of a younger man, and the Pope has approved his plan.
The election of a new General will be the first task of the assembling delegates. There are speculations about the 'Generabili' as there are, after a Pope's death, about the 'Papabili'. A recent issue of the Catholic magazine Tablet gives the names of Fr. Lisbert D'Souza and Fr. Devados, both Indians, and Fr. Mark Raper, an Australian, as potential candidates. Several others, especially Fr. Mark Rotsaert of Holland and Fr. Elias Royon of Spain, too are often mentioned. Whoever is elected, however, must be approved by the Pope first, before his name is released to the public. Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, a former Provincial of Japan and the current President of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia, has also been rumored to be a candidate, but as he is past 70, he may be considered too old.
There are two delegates from Japan: Fr. Shogo Sumita, the Provincial of Japan, and Fr. Renzo de Luca, until recently the head of the 26 Martyrs' Shrine, in Nagasaki. Both are graduates of Sophia University, Tokyo.
The Congregation was convened nearly two years ago, on Feb 2, 2006, by Fr. Kolvenbach, the incumbent General. A preparatory commission, with 14 members, was set up in February 2007. The delegates have been arriving in Rome since early January 2008, and the Congregation officially opened on January 7, 2008, with a solemn Mass at 4:30 PM. The delegates are expected to engage in 'murmuratio' for a few days before the election day so that they get to know each other and make up for themselves whom to vote. No canvassing for votes or promotion of self is permitted, and a specially set-up committee has been entrusted with the task of spotting anyone who fails to toe the line.
There is no time limit for how long the GC will take place; it is up to the members to fix their own schedule. Usually, though, it lasts less than two months. In modern times, GC 31 was the exceptional one, as it lasted for 141 days and held twice, once in 1965 and again in 1966.
In GC 35, electronic gadgets are expected to be used much. Public voting will all be done electronically, and simultaneous translation will be available. A professional Jesuit photographer will be the official photographer. The primary languages used at the Congregation will be English, French, Italian, & Spanish.
Whoever is elected, he is sure to face many challenges, like the shortage of vocations, the dwindling number of total strength (from an impressive 36,000 in 1964 to less than 20,000 in 2008), keeping good relations with the Vatican, and so on. The future of institutions like Sophia University too may depend on his leadership!