October 14, 2016 — Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, SJ, of Venezuela was elected the 31st Superior General of the Society of Jesus at the Jesuits’ General Congregation 36 (GC 36) today in Rome. Fr. Sosa is the first Latin American Superior General of the Society of Jesus, the largest religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church.
Fr. Sosa, Delegate of the General for the International Houses and Works of the Society of Jesus in Rome, was elected by 212 Jesuit electors at the General Congregation, the supreme governing body of the Society, which is currently being held at the Jesuit Curia, the Society’s headquarters in Rome. He succeeds Father Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, 80, who resigned last week after serving as Superior General since 2008.
Fr. Sosa was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on November 12, 1948. He entered the Society of Jesus in September 1966 and was ordained a priest in 1977. He holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the Catholic University Andrés Bello in Caracas, a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome and a doctorate in political science from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He was provincial superior of the Society of Jesus in Venezuela from 1996 to 2004. Fr. Sosa speaks Spanish, Italian and English and understands French.
Prior to his appointment as provincial, he was in charge of the social apostolate of the Jesuits in Venezuela, which includes the Jesuit network of schools for the poor, Fe y Alegría. He was also head of the Centro Gumilla, the Jesuit-run social and action research center.
Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ (right), newly elected Superior General, is greeted by Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, his predecessor.
Fr. Sosa, only the 31st Superior General in the Society’s 476-year history, now leads the 16,740 Jesuits worldwide. This includes about 12,000 priests; 1,300 brothers; 2,700 scholastics; and 753 novices, according to Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, General Counsellor and Assistant ad Providentiam.
In an interview at GC 36 before the election, Fr. Sosa said delegates gathered come from different countries, but they share a common culture linked to their experience of the Ignatian spiritual exercises and practices of discernment. "We have a long tradition and a strong desire to listen to the same voice, that is the voice of the Holy Spirit."
The election was held after four days of murmuratio, a centuries-old practice of one-on-one conversation and information gathering, designed to prepare the delegation for the selection of a new Superior General.
Jesuits talk during the murmuratio.
The day of the election began with a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit at Santo Spirito Church, the 12th-century church across the street from the Curia. Father James Grummer, SJ, Vicar General of the Congregation, delivered the homily.
Jesuits celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit at Santo Spirito Church before electing a new Superior General Oct. 14.
Fr. Grummer reflected on their task to choose a new leader: “Our mission this morning is to elect a General. We will be locked into an upper room, not for fear but for concentrated listening to the Spirit’s whisper. We are not afraid because we believe so strongly that the Spirit guides the balloting that according to Formula 84 ‘The man elected cannot refuse the election.’ ”
The Jesuit electors’ mission was not just to listen carefully, said Fr. Grummer, “but also to trust that even if I need batteries in my spiritual hearing aid, I can trust that through this band of brothers the Spirit will identify the man he has chosen. We can trust that Jesus will give us his Spirit, no matter how locked we may feel.”
Fr. James Grummer, SJ, at the Mass of the Holy Spirit at Santo Spirito Church.
Fr. Grummer noted that St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, did not talk about the Holy Spirit often in his writings. “I believe Ignatius said so little about the Holy Spirit because he did not want words to distract doubters and Inquisitors from the deeds of the Spirit, from experiencing joy, gifts and mission of the Holy Spirit.
“Ignatius’ silence about the Spirit leaves more room to contemplate the deeds of that Spirit. As we celebrate the Eucharist at this altar this morning, may the Spirit fill our silence with the joy and all the gifts we need to embrace the special mission this day of choosing the one the Lord has chosen.”
Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ (left), gets the first selfie with the Jesuits' 31st Superior General.
After Mass, the Jesuits assembled in silence in the Aula (Latin for hall) back at the Jesuit Curia. The delegates then prayed silently for one hour, before voting began. In order to be named as the Jesuits’ new superior general, Fr. Sosa would have had to have received 107 votes (50 percent plus one of the 212 electors). All aspects of the election are strictly confidential, although the congregation confirmed that the first person to be notified of Fr. Sosa's election was Pope Francis.
Jesuits congratulate Fr. Sosa after his election.
While Fr. Sosa’s election as Superior General completes one of the main tasks of GC 36, the group’s work is not over. Now the delegates will tackle matters of mission, governance and the state of the Society. Topics may range from the Society’s changing demographics to challenges in worldwide ministries, to the Jesuit response to a rapidly changing world, environmental concerns, poverty and violence. [Sources: GC36.org, Crux]
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