Jesuits Elect a Venezuelan as the New General

By Patrick Howell, S.J.

The 36th Jesuit General Congregation in October elected Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., of Venezuela to succeed Fr. Adolfo Nicolás as Superior General of the Society of Jesus. Earlier Fr. Nicolás, who recently turned 80, submitted his resignation to the General Congregation.

Born in 1948 in Caracas, Venezuela, into an open-minded Catholic family, Fr. Arturo Sosa was educated from an early age to cultivate an attitude of curiosity that goes beyond ordinary appearances. He entered the Society on September 14, 1966, and during his regency he was sent to Gumila, one of the first centers of research and social action for peasant cooperatives. He then studied in Rome, where he experienced the international character of the Society. After this he pursued studies in political science at the Universidad Central of Venezuela and became editor of the review Sic at the Centro Gumilla.

Father Arturo Sousa, SJ, the New Father General of the Society of Jesus

Father Arturo Sousa, SJ, the New Father General of the Society of Jesus

He has attended four general congregations, the first was G.C. 33 in 1983 when he was only 34, the youngest delegate in attendance. After serving as provincial of Venezuela and later as rector of the Catholic University of Táchiar, Father Sosa was called to Rome by Father Nicolás in 2014 to take charge of the international houses, which include the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and the Pontifical Oriental Institute, as well as the Jesuit residences. As a visiting professor at Georgetown in 2004, he taught in the Latin American Studies program. He is fluent in Spanish, Italian, and English and understands French.

In a remarkable visit to the congregation just after the election of Father Sosa, Pope Francis visited all of the Jesuit delegates at the Jesuit curia – a first for any pope. The tradition had been that the delegates all trooped over to see and hear the pope after the election of a new general. The Holy Father warmly embraced the new Father General and thanked the Jesuits for their fidelity and devotion to the church and to all humankind. He detailed three areas for the Society’s path into the future:

  • The first is to “ask insistently for consolation.” The Society must know how to bring consolation and real joy to others; the Jesuits must put themselves at the service of joy, for the Good News cannot be announced in sadness.
  • “Allow yourselves to be moved by the Lord on the cross.” The Jesuits must get close to the vast majority of men and women who suffer and offer mercy in various forms.
  • Go forward under the influence of the “good spirit.” Discerning is more than simply reflecting. The Jesuits must not be “clerical” but “ecclesial.” They are “men for others” who live in the midst of all peoples, touch the heart of each person, and contribute in this way to establishing a church in which all have their place, in which the Gospel is inculturated, and in which each culture is evangelized.

Following the election of the General, the 215 delegates got down to the business of the governance of the Society and whatever else needed to be addressed. They decided not to construct multiple major documents. But they did discuss, discern, and decided upon many other items but then left them to the general for the new day-to-day governance.

Though this congregation did not produce many documents, it did make these points:

  • In a time of a loss of the sense of God, Jesuits want to participate in the great ministry of reconciliation based on justice, faith, and solidarity with the poor.
  • To achieve this, Jesuits need to have discerning local communities where simplicity of life and openness of heart allow them to reach out and to share with others.
  • The Jesuits seek to be “men on fire with the Gospel passion.” Imbuing themselves with the Spiritual Exercises will enable a constant spiritual renewal and enflame them to meet others with a discerning compassion and a compassionate discernment.
  • Jesuits are reminded especially of their role in fighting against inequalities and seeking the common good. In our time, Laudato Si’ inspires the Jesuits to care for our common home and the poor who are most affected by environmental degradation.

It seems fitting to close with the pope’s three words, which are graces for each Jesuit, for the whole Society, and for all of the lay collaborators: consolation, compassion, and discernment.

Patrick J. Howell, S.J., is a professor of theology and part of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture at Seattle University; he is also the chair of the Conversations seminar.