The 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus began this Monday morning, Oct. 10, the immediate preparation for the election of the order’s next Superior General, which will take place on Friday, Oct.14.
The congregation is being held at the Jesuit Curia, a stone’s throw from the Vatican. This morning the 212 delegates who will vote in the election began the official four days of “murmurationes” (“murmurings”) that end on Oct. 14, during which they will seek to identify the most suitable priest to be the next leader of the largest religious order in the Catholic church.
Since the 212 delegates, plus 3 who do not have a vote, come from 62 countries and all five continents, many do not know each other. The electors come from the different Jesuit conferences worldwide: 23 from Asia Pacific, 58 from Europe, 46 from South Asia, 33 from Canada-USA, 21 from Africa and 34 from Latin America. The average age is 56, the median age 55. The oldest participant, Fr. Nicolàs, is 80; the youngest, Dany Younés, S.J., from the Near East, is 42. Almost all electors are priests, but there are also 6 brother electors
To help overcome the difficulty of not knowing each other, the organizers of GC 36 divided the delegates into some 20 small groups over the past week. In these groups, they discussed a confidential report on “The State of the Society” that will not be made public, which has been carefully prepared beforehand for the congregation with input from provinces around the world. Delegates shared their views on this report in the small groups.
Significantly, however, to enable participants to get to know each other even better, delegates had to move from one group to another and then to another throughout the week. So by the time they began the four days of “murmurings” this morning, they had gained already a better knowledge of each other.
There are 3 main languages at CG36: English, Spanish and French, though many participants also know Italian.
Father Adolfo Nicolàs, who has led the order since 2008, presented his resignation to the General Congregation last Monday, Oct 3, because as the supreme organ of government of the Society of Jesus, it alone can elect a Superior General or accept his resignation. He had already communicated his wish to resign to Jesuit provincials in March 2014, after first informing Pope Francis. When he finished speaking last Monday, he left the hall where the assembly is being held. Then some delegates as well as the four consultors who had worked with him in these years spoke, and after that the GC voted to accept his resignation, thereby opening the door to this week’s election.
Before resigning, however, Fr. Nicolàs appointed a Vicar General to lead the GC and the Society until the new Superior General is elected. He chose the American Jesuit, Father James Grummer.
On Friday Oct, 7, the GC delegates elected by secret ballot a secretary and two assistants (under-secretaries). They are the three major officials of the GC and their main task is to prepare every day the Acts of the Congregation, and all the official documents that will be used by members in the hall.
They elected as secretary Father Luis Orlando Torres, a Jesuit from Puerto Rico and a member of the USA Central and Southern Province (UCS). At present, he is the rector of the Jesuit Community of Collegio Internationale del Gesù in Rome.
They also elected as first Assistant Secretary, Father Agnelo Macarenhas from Goa Province, India. He is also the Under-Secretary of the Society at the General Curia in Rome. And as second Assistant Secretary, Father Francisco Javier (Patxi) Alvarez from the Spanish Province. He works in the General Curia as Secretary for Social Justice and Ecology.
These three, together with the Vicar General, will be the main officers of the GC for the election of the Superior General.
This Friday, Oct. 14, the congregation will elect 31st Superior General of the Society of Jesus with a 50 percent +1 vote (107 votes). Many observers in Rome think that like the first Jesuit pope, the new head of the order could also come from the global south.