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Jesuits Celebrate Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, Electors to General Congregation 36 Pass Through Holy Door of Mercy

By Tracey Primrose

October 7, 2016 — In a driving rain this morning in Rome, 215 Jesuits made the short walk from the worldwide headquarters of the Society of Jesus to St. Peter’s Basilica. They crossed St. Peter’s Square and, like millions of pilgrims before them during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, walked through the Holy Door of Mercy. While singing the official hymn of the Holy Year, “Misericordes sicut Pater” (Merciful Like the Father), the Jesuits passed through the large, ornamental bronze doors opened by Pope Francis last December to inaugurate the Jubilee Year and made their way to the altar at the Chair of St. Peter.

Jesuits, including Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, SJ (second from right), who resigned as the Society's Superior General earlier this week, head to St. Peter’s Basilica. Photo by Don Doll, SJ.

There, they vested, each wearing a white cloth stole embroidered with the Jesuits’ starburst logo and the IHS (symbol for Jesus), for the celebration of the Mass. Presiding at Mass was Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, 76, of the Philippines, the eldest of the group of 215 Jesuit electors gathered in Rome for General Congregation 36, the supreme governing body of the Society of Jesus, which will soon elect a new leader to replace Father Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, 80, who retired earlier this week.

Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ (left), presided at Mass. Photo by Don Doll, SJ.

In several days, the electors will begin four days of conversation, called murmuratio. Outlined by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Society’s first Superior General, in the Jesuit Constitutions, the process provides an opportunity for information gathering and one-on-one discussions about potential candidates for office.

Fr. Nebres, the former longtime president of the Ateneo de Manila University, led the concelebrants in prayer for the group’s coming discernment. “We ask the Father to place us, as he placed Ignatius, with Jesus carrying his cross. We ask the Lord Jesus who called us to the company that bears his name to be propitious to us. We ask the Holy Spirit to give light to our minds and to warm our hearts.”

Photo by Don Doll, SJ

Fr. Nebres later briefly reflected on Jesus and St. Peter, the first pope and Vicar of Christ. He prayed for a fire that “enkindles our hearts during this General Congregation so that we can kindle other fires and give the warmth of the love of God to a world grown cold.”

The centerpiece of the Cathedra Petri — the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter, where the Jesuits celebrated Mass — is an enormous gilded bronze monument designed by Bernini in 1666 to enclose an oak throne donated by Charles the Bald upon his coronation in St. Peter’s in 875. On the left wall of the chapel is a monument to Paul III, the pope who approved the Society of Jesus in 1540.

Photo by Don Doll, SJ

When Mass concluded, the Jesuits walked down the main aisle at St. Peter’s, where in the left nave, they passed the statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Ignatius is holding a large book open to a page that says Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, For the Greater Glory of God, the Society’s unofficial motto. The opposite page of the book in St. Ignatius’ hand is the Jesuit Constitutions, his exquisitely thorough manual that covers every imaginable detail regarding how to run a General Congregation and how to elect a new Superior General.

It was a fitting end to the celebration of the Eucharist.

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