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Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Rome: reports from Jesuit Congregation
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¬†For the 35th time since 1558, Jesuits from around the world are in Rome for a General Congregation. This time, after almost 25 years, a new Superior General is being elected. After the election, lasting until about the last week of February, the apostolic future of the order will be decided by the 226 'congregants'. Below are the first two reports sent to us by the SJs news service. First impressions Fernando Franco SJ The long white line of concelebrants at the inaugural Mass in the church of the Gesý on 7 January wound its way from the small square outside into the magnificent baroque splendour of the church. A few passers-by looked with amazement at the procession. In that surprised look I saw a strange combination of scepticism about the capacity of religion and religious persons to address issues facing common people, and an unexpressed desire to receive from us a message of hope, comfort and inspiration capable of dispelling growing fears and deepening despairs. In a world where polarisations have formed almost unbridgeable gulfs, where accusation is the order of the day, where apocalyptic messages are dished out at intervals, we seem to be called to construct a space of honest dialogue, to build bridges across cultures and ideologies. As we sat down I looked around at the faces of all the members of the Congregation. Diversity is what strikes you first. Plurality--of cultures, languages and apostolic experiences--characterizes the 226 members of this Congregation. At the same time, the white colour of the mass vestments we wore served as a common identity-marker for all of us. The white vestments not only served as an external sign of our commonality but also emphasized the common internal bond of our faith and religious commitment. Plurality and commonality? Nevertheless, this creative tension between diversity and unity may be a source of inspiration if we listen to the Spirit. Before the ceremony, while putting on the vestments, the sacristy exuded warmth and camaraderie. For many it was the first time they were meeting old friends. That was the first taste of feeling in the midst of companions and friends in the Lord. There was simple joy. Someone mentioned that at this point of time the Society has come to this Congregation more mature and united than in the past. We seem to be internally far from the tensions of the past. Challenges however are lying outside and some of them loom large indeed. The moment at the end of the Mass before the tomb of St. Ignatius will remain etched in my memory for many years. Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach read out, in the name of us all and of the Society, an offering of our selves, of our mind and will to the service of the Lord. His words were a moving expression of what his last 25 years have been. As we start the work of this Congregation the lamp at Ignatius's tomb and in all Jesuit Churches will remain burning. A reminder to all of us of our responsibility before the Lord and all of our companions. Slideshow of the opening Mass can be seen at: Warming up The Congregation has completed its first week. As one member put it adroitly: "we have warmed up the engine...and now we are ready for the crucial week ahead". One of the objectives of this first week was to provide a space where the members of the Congregation could come to know each other better. After the first two days when the meetings were organised Assistancy-wise, that is, regionally, during the last two days all the members met in 21 small linguistic groups of ten members each. The Commission in charge of this process assigned each participant to a group speaking a language different from the one officially spoken in his region (quite a test for some of us!) to ensure that certain groups did not get too large and unwieldy. The final list gives some idea of the distribution of language skills: 3 French groups, 2 Italian, 6 Spanish and 10 English. A couple of days ago, someone prepared a list of the most widely spoken mother-tongues. Spanish was first, not so surprising; what surprised many was the fact that Malayalam, Konkani and Tamil, three Indian languages, were among the top seven. As the Commission on the state of the Society worked hard to prepare a report on the lights and shadows of the Society, the regional and linguistic meetings have achieved the desired purpose of facilitating communication among the members and familiarising many with some of the main issues and themes that the Congregation will have to deal after the election. There is a quiet sense of optimism and trust in the Lord that has called all of us. Laughter and bonhomie have accompanied the preliminary discussion on some important matters. The week ahead is probably the most crucial one for the future of the Society. After discussing the resignation already submitted by Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the members of the Congregation will enter four days of silence and prayer before the scheduled election to be held on Saturday 19th of January. Prayer will be accompanied by fasting. There were light-hearted comments when the Congregation was informed that during the four days of silence and prayer, only sandwiches would be served in the afternoon!
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