Jesuits from 62 countries have chosen “a man of deep prayer” in electing Venezuelan-born Arturo Sosa Abascal as the new superior general of their order, said Timothy P. Kesicki, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, a few hours after the decision was announced on Oct. 14.
That is one of two qualities that are essential for the head of the order, Father Kesicki told America. The superior general has to be a man of prayer because he makes his decisions in prayerful discernment, he said. He must also have “a holy boldness, an apostolic aggressivity,” Father Kesicki said, “because we are a missionary order that is called to go to the farthest corners of the earth and do so without fear.”
Father Sosa is the 31st successor of St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. He is the first non-European and the first Latin American to head what is today the largest religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church.
“As someone from the New World, he brings the riches of the Latin American church and knows also the challenges,” Father Kesicki said. “He is also a man with cross-cultural experience, having studied at the Gregorian University in Rome as well as universities in his homeland.” The new superior general, he said, “has direct experience of some of the challenges we face in the United States and is especially aware of the difficulties migrants from Latin America face.”
Asked whether the decision to choose a Latin American was influenced by the fact that the church already has a Latin American pope, Father Kesicki was doubtful. “There’s never an overt political calculus” like that, he said. On the other hand, he acknowledged that “it’s not a big surprise that the new superior general is from the global South, given that 59 percent of the delegates at G.C. 36 come from there.”
He recognized that it is “a historic choice” and that the new leader’s perspective will be “different from that of Father Nicolás, who came with an Asian experience.” Before his appointment to the Jesuit central administration in Rome, Father Sosa served as superior of the Jesuit province in Venezuela between 1996 and 2004 and had to contend with the mercurial former president, the late Hugo Chávez. Before that, he was coordinator of the social apostolate in that country and director of Centro Gumilla, the Jesuits’ center for research and social action in Venezuela.
Father Sosa was a professor and a member of the Foundation Council of the Andrés Bello Catholic University and was for 10 years the rector of the Catholic University in Táchira. He did most of his research and teaching in political science and published several works about the history and politics of Venezuela.
Before the election on Oct. 14, the 212 electors who chose Father Sosa concelebrated Mass in the nearby Church of the Holy Spirit and then at 9 a.m. entered the hall where the 36th General Congregation was being held. Before voting, they listened to an exhortation and prayed in silence for almost an hour. Father Sosa’s election was greeted with warm and sustained applause from the delegates.
The new Jesuit leader will become 68 years old on Nov. 12; he is elected for life.