The Last Time This Happened…

In 2008, the Jesuits held their last full international gathering. Things were a little different back then:

  • Folks were still using the iPhone 1st Gen
  • George W. Bush was president, Barack Obama was relatively unknown.
  • Soulja Boy was inspiring a dance revolution with his song “Crank That” – and the music video featured flip phones.
  • JK Rowling finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
  • Pope Benedict XVI headed the Catholic Church.
  • I was in my senior year of high school and sixty pounds lighter.
  • Beyoncé was queen of the music world with her song “Irreplaceable,” which was the song of the year. (OK, some things don’t change.)

All of these events and trends were true at the start of 2008 as the Jesuits entered General Congregation (GC) 35.

What is a General Congregation?

A general congregation is an international gathering of Jesuits who help determine the future and direction of the Jesuits. They have two main tasks: selecting the next Superior General and setting the world-wide priorities of the Jesuits.

Why a new Superior General? How is he chosen?

This year, Superior General Fr. Adolfo Nicolás will step down from being head of the Jesuits. Historically, the superior general was only replaced upon death. The last few leaders, however, willingly chose to step aside.

The members of the congregation vote for the general by simple majority. Jesuit documents expressly forbid lobbying by or on behalf of an individual. Instead, the delegates spend four days getting to know each other, called a “murmuratio.” At the end of these four days, the delegates write down a name on a paper ballot of the person they feel most drawn to by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Some changes this time!

Two things have been consistent at the first 35 general congregations: priests and massive amounts of paper. Previously, only priests could be delegates at the congregation. At GC35, the delegates voted that brothers should have a greater voice. GC36 will be the first congregation with brothers having a full and active role. What will this mean for the congregation? That is an exciting question many are looking forward to.

This congregation will also have a different environmental impact. Previously, all business, propositions, and ballots were completely done on paper. That means if a document were written on Monday, and edited on Tuesday, a new copy would need to be printed for each and every delegate on Wednesday. This of course led to a heap of waste. This year, delegates will do everything except for the voting on their tablet. The Church in the modern era!

One other thing: this is the first-ever congregation to take place with a pope who is also a Jesuit. Given the nature of Pope “Freestyle” Francis, I think we’re all excited to see how it will play out.



What should we look forward to?

For many of us younger Jesuits, this is our first general congregation since entering the Jesuits. As Jesuits, we have read and studied many of our documents, especially the decrees from the last five congregations. What’s going to come out of this congregation? I asked several other Jesuits for their input on what they expected or hoped to see.

With the election of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church seemed to acknowledge its more international character. Many Jesuits have stated their desire for the same to be true of the Jesuits. Indeed, the overall population of Jesuits has been shifting steadily to the Global South. Young Jesuits have voiced a desire for the next general to be from the Global South, a man of color, and not from a wealthy country. They hope that North America and Europe do not dominate discussions, but allow for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to carry voices from the Southern Hemisphere.

Many Jesuits see the world and Church at a critical juncture. What do we do about international conflict? Climate change and environmental degradation? Widening inequality? International movements of refugees and immigrants? How do the Jesuits love and call others to love the world more fully? How do the Jesuits follow the call of GC32 and really live the preferential option for the poor?

Others have a somewhat comical view on the Congregation. TJP writer Dan Everson stated, “Nadal, ever so pious, asked Ignatius: “For the love of our Lord, please tell me something that may be of use.” Ignatius responded: “What you know is sufficient. You ought to put it into practice.” That’s how I feel about our big red book full of GC documents! We know what we need to do; we just need to do it!” The last four congregations put forth dozens of documents which we are still learning from and growing into.

In my conversations with various Jesuits, three themes consistently come forth: hope, excitement, and prayer. Despite all the hurt, pain, and division in the world, we are capable of coming together in love, joy, and faith. We are not abandoned, but God continues to guide us. The Jesuits are an incredibly diverse group of men from across the globe and, with guidance of the Spirit, have the opportunity to address those deep and challenging hurts in the world.

The theme of General Congregation 36 is “Rowing into the deep.” We at The Jesuit Post hope that this depth will be found in faith, discernment, and commitment to the poor and forgotten.

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