Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Congregatin'

One other thing you might be interested in. Right now, elected members of the Society of Jesus from all over the world are gathered in Rome to elect a new general. Our current general, a man named Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, has been in office for 25 years, and is stepping down. Jesuit Generals actually have no term limit; we're the only order, in fact, that elects its leader for life. Our rules aren't changing, but the pope has allowed Fr. Kolvenbach to retire.

If you're interested in the Congregation, Don Doll, a Jesuit photographer who is at the congregation, has a web page with lots of cool slide shows and photographs you can check out: magis.creighton.edu.

Creighton U also has its own website entirely devoted to what's going on over there, with an audience in mind of those who might be friends of the Society or interested but don't necessarily know: http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/GC35.

If you're looking for some interesting things to read, well, I happen to know that a brilliant little magazine called America did a couple cool pieces lately that might be of interest to you. There's an article on the last General, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, by a Jesuit theologian named Kevin Burke, at http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10386, and an interview with the current General that I did: http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10418. Both are free at America's website once you take a second and register (which doesn't require a subscription).

If you're an America subscriber, you can find another article on Arrupe through the eyes of his old assistants, at http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10385.

The Italian Jesuit magazine Popoli also did an interview with Fr. Kolvenbach as well. It has some really interesting stuff in it. If you read Italian you can go to http://www.popoli.info/, click on the "speciale: intervista a padre Kolvenbach" in the upper right hand corner to see it. Otherwise, I've posted a piece from Catholic News Service below.

No one knows when exactly a new general will be elected, but it will be pretty soon, the next week or so. The group of Jesuits are meeting for a few days now to get the procedural stuff squared away, then they go into a three day process known as the "murmatio", in which the men are allowed to meet with one another individually to talk about possible candidates, the needs of the church and Society at this time, etc., but no one can campaign and there are no bigger group think sessions allowed. It's all 1-on-1 conversations among the electors. And at the end of this, the group gathers to vote.

Last time around, Father Kolvenbach was elected on the very first ballot.

From Catholic News Service:
posted: Thursday, December 06, 2007
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In almost a quarter-century as the superior general of the largest men's religious order, Jesuit Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach has had to mediate between individual Jesuits and Vatican or local church officials who thought a Jesuit had stepped outside the bounds of Catholic theology.

"The attitude required in the majority of situations of conflict," he said, was to ensure fidelity to the unity of the church, to truth and to charity.

Father Kolvenbach, 79, formally will offer his resignation to the Jesuits' general congregation in early January. He was elected superior general in 1983.

In an interview published Dec. 5 in the Italian Catholic journal Il Regno, Father Kolvenbach said, "Just as at the time of (Jesuit founder St.) Ignatius, the Jesuits refer to the vicar of Christ on earth so as not to wander onto erroneous paths and to ask the way to follow for the greater glory of God and for the true good of all humanity."

The superior said the Jesuits see themselves as men on a mission to bring the Gospel to places where it has not been heard or where it is misunderstood.

Father Kolvenbach said that Pope John Paul II affirmed in 1982 that the Jesuits should be on the front lines ministering among those dealing with questions and debates on "faith and the modern world, faith and science, faith and culture, faith and justice -- in order to communicate the word of God everywhere."

But being on the front lines, he said, can lead to difficulties, questions and misunderstandings.

In an interview also released Dec. 5 in the online edition of Popoli, an Italian Jesuit magazine, Father Kolvenbach said being a theologian today is particularly challenging.

Theology today takes place "in a nervous atmosphere of conflict and polarization in which everything immediately is classified as right or left, conservative or progressive," he said.

But the danger cannot be allowed to frighten people from studying and investigating the truths of the faith and their modern applications, he said.

"The church needs the service of theologians, undertaken with competence, quality and creativity so that her true face may shine forth," he said.

At the same time, the Jesuit superior said, serious attention must be given to those who stray because "the church cannot renounce its right and obligation to warn the faithful about errors or about possible erroneous interpretations" in new theological works.

Both magazines asked Father Kolvenbach about the declining number of Jesuits in the world, and he told both that the situation is a combination of demographics -- mainly smaller families -- and the new opportunities for church service presented by lay movements.

At various moments in history, Father Kolvenbach told Il Regno, different religious orders have arisen to highlight particular aspects of Jesus' own ministry, "sometimes the Lord in prayer and sometimes the poor Lord, or the Lord preaching, the Lord in mission, the Lord who loves the poor, the Lord who teaches."

And, in the interview with Popoli, he pointed out that vocations flourish "in a fervent church, frequently where the church is persecuted and oppressed."

He quoted the British founder of the Boy Scouts, Lord Baden-Powell, who said: "I like my religion the same way I like my tea -- boiling."

"If the parish, the life of the church is not strong, fervent, warm, it cannot give rise to consecrated life or priestly vocations," he said.

"We should not expect much from a church that seems to be dying," the Jesuit said.

Father Kolvenbach said he expected the Jesuit general congregation, which will begin meeting Jan. 7 to elect his successor and outline future projects, to give the Jesuits new energy.

"Mediocrity has no place in the world vision of Ignatius," he said.

Father Kolvenbach, who said he expects his provincial to assign him to work in Lebanon, where he was before his election as superior, also highlighted the importance the Jesuits have given to interreligious dialogue.

"If humanity does not want to condemn itself to death, there is no path other than dialogue," he said.

In imitation of God who is permanently in dialogue with humanity, he said, Christians always must take "the first step toward the other, despite any discouraging experiences."

He said the Jesuits, like the church itself, believe dialogue can take four forms: living together with openness and acceptance; joint action to build a better world; explaining each other's religious experiences; and dialogue between theologians.

Father Kolvenbach said that in the modern world -- often "a desert without God" -- it is important that believers, firm in their own traditions, share with each other and with the wider world the paths that can lead to faith.

END

12/05/2007 12:53 PM ET

Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops