14 October 2016, The Tablet

Latin American moment for Catholicism after Jesuits elect Venezuelan 'Black Pope'

A Latin American “Black Pope” joined the Latin American “White Pope” in Rome today - meaning that for the first time in the Church’s history two of the most powerful figures in Catholicism are from South America.  

It is also the first time for Catholicism that the top two posts are both occupied by Jesuits from the same part of the world. The Jesuits this morning elected Venezuelan Fr Arturo Sosa Abascal to be the new leader a role known as the “Black Pope” because of the order’s global influence and because the society have often been seen as a parallel power to the papacy.  

The 67-year-old priest, a former provincial in his home country, will serve in Rome alongside Pope Francis, the Argentinian and Jesuit pontiff. 

Fr Sosa Abascal was born in Caracas entering the Society of Jesus in 1966 and was ordained a decade later - he currently works at the order’s headquarters in Rome. His conclave-like election took place after 212 Jesuits from 66 countries were asked to nominate a new superior general, writing their preferences on paper ballots. 

Sosa takes over from Fr Adolfo Nicolas, who recently turned 80, as the 31st successor to St Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the missionary order in 1540. Today it stretches across the world and has 16,400 members, many of them running universities or serving in hard to reach communities. But the number of Jesuits has has almost halved sine the 1960s and the order has been called to Rome to discuss its future priorities. 

The election today took place in the context of a General Congregation which now, following the naming of Fr Sosa Abascal, will assess where the order should focus its energies. His apportionment comes after the Pope agreed to help mediate in Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic crisis. The new Jesuit general will almost certainly have an important role in this process.  

Jesuit generals are elected for life, although the last two incumbents have resigned, and while Popes are informed of the election result they have no right of veto over the choice of candidate. Sosa has a doctorate in Political Sciences from the Universidad Central de Venezuela and speaks Spanish, Italian and English and understands French.  

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