29 September 2016
From the ends of the Earth and back again
The Society of Jesus gathers in Rome tomorrow, for only its thirty-sixth general meeting in nearly 500 years, to elect a new leader and to rethink its global mission
Last week I lunched at the Jesuit curia in Bogotá, with the man who could be the next Superior General of the Society of Jesus. Fr Francisco de Roux, 70, is being spoken of – at least by some of his fellow Colombian Jesuits – as a possible successor to the Spaniard Fr Adolfo Nicolás, whose resignation will be the first piece of business at the thirty-sixth General Congregation (GC36) in Rome after it opens tomorrow.
Tomorrow is also the day, as it happens, that Colombians vote on the peace agreement signed between the Government and the Farc guerrillas on Monday. “Pacho” de Roux has been a discreet but key player in the talks. As he explains the dynamics behind the four-year process, hosted by Havana, I think what a formidable choice he would be as Superior General. Who better to bolster the Society’s missionary, frontier ethos?
And surely, after an unbroken line of Europeans – 30 since 1540 – is it not time for a Latin-American General to go with our Latin-American Jesuit Pope? But this kind of speculation misses the point. Unlike conclaves, with their identifiable papabili and parties of rigoristi and riformisti, GCs are basically faction-free, and almost unpredictable – or, as the Jesuits would say, “free”.
After voting on their new General, the GC will be doing what every GC does – taking stock, over six or so weeks, of the Society’s mission and religious spirit. A GC is the Society of Jesus’ supreme governing body, and what it decides sets the agenda for the General.
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