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Roman Dispatches

gc36dRoman Dispatches 16

Today, Monday, 17 October 2016, electors and delegates returned to the Aula for the first time since the momentous events of the previous week capped by the election of Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ. It all seemed rather distant yet quaintly familiar.

Normalcy has been restored in the governance of the Society after the hiatus that followed the resignation of Arturo's predecessor. Various images were used to describe that brief moment of breach that seemed to last forever – orphan, liminality, vulnerability, incompleteness, etc.

Well, we now have a General at the helm of the Society's affairs, a fact that was clearly visible today in the Aula. Appropriately the Congregation began consideration of matters concerning governance for mission. Arturo addressed the members and presided at the morning session with the authority of a reliable helmsman and the solicitude of a beloved father. Funny how the Society invests so much energy in ensuring not only the election of its "head," but also in keeping watch over his wellbeing. I think of how bees work for and feed and nourish their queen for on her productivity and welfare depend the life and survival of the entire colony. It's an apt analogy. As Ignatius put it, it's imperative to have a good man as head of the Society, that is, a man who shares close familiarity with God in prayer and in all his ways. Only such a man would be able to obtain from God all the graces that the Society and its men need to accomplish the mission entrusted to them. God has chosen such a man for us. May God be propitious to us in Rome. – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 15

Today, Sunday, 16 October 2016, is the second full break day of GC 36. As usual, several members of the Congregation "fled" Rome over the weekend. Everybody you meet talks of being relieved and grateful. The intensity of emotions of the last few days has been palpable. Members seem to heave a collective sigh of relief having accomplished the most important task of the Congregation. All the more reason why their expression of gratitude has been profuse, sincere and profound. This week the Congregation will return to regular business, but this time under the direction and guidance of the newly elected Superior General. Word has it that he has been hard at work – especially chairing a string of meetings, besides moving into his new room and office. We wait to see what direction Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ, will establish for the remainder of the Congregation. This evening, courtesy of the generosity of His Paternity JESAM President Fr. Michael Lewis, SJ, the entire contingent of JESAM present at GC 36 will be treated to a nice Italian dinner at a nearby restaurant called Divino Peccato. Contrary to what the name suggests, I'm reliably informed that it will be an evening of conviviality rather than debauchery. May God be propitious to us in Rome. – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 14

Hmm.... Wonders will never end! Today, Saturday, 15 October 2016, was a day of gratitude. Newly elected Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ (everybody calls him "Arturo") presided at the Messa di Ringraziamento in the Jesuit Mother Church of Gesù. All the members of GC 36 were present, along with Jesuits from far and near, and friends and well-wishers of the Society. As usual, it was a well-choreographed high-Latin liturgy in Italian. Let me come to the part about wonders. Today, at the crack of dawn, Arturo made his way from the General Curia to the room of Ignatius. He was met on arrival by a liturgical assistant. Once inside the room he was joined by the youngest elector, Brother James Edema, SJ (AOR), and the oldest elector, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ (PHI). What were they up to? It turns out that there are some Jesuit rituals and traditions that happen only at such liminal moments. Prayers were said in the sacred space, James handed Arturo an ancient copy of the Constitutions of the Society and Bienvenido gave him a copy of the Formula of the Institute. How did I know about this? "An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knowsthat he is speaking the truth" (John 19:35). The symbolism of that dawn ritual is obvious: as Superior General, Arturo is now the grand custodian of the spiritual patrimony of the Society of Jesus. Remember the ritual at the opening Mass, when Adolfo Nicolàs, SJ, led all the Conference Presidents in prayer before the reliquary of the Society's saints and blesseds? At the Mass of Thanksgiving, we saw another wonder. Before the final blessing, Arturo led a procession of concelebrants from the altar to the tomb of Ignatius in the Gesù. Upon arrival, an approved scholastic of the Society of Jesus addressed him. He reminded Arturo of the key Trinitarian moments and experiences of Ignatius's life and the foundation of the Society, and concluded with the following counsel: "Of this charism you have become the guardian ... who knows how to draw from the treasures that our forefathers have left us as an inheritance, the old and the new together, so that we may advance in the way of the good and grow in our humble service." Arturo then lit an oil lamp before the funerary urn of Ignatius and led the congregation in a prayer to the Most Holy Trinity. As we filed out of the Gesù, the Superior General's liturgical party made one final stop at another side altar. There were too many tall people in front of me, so I couldn't figure what he was up to. We live to learn another day. May God continue to be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 13

Habemus New Superior General of the Society of Jesus: V. Rev. Arturo Marcelino Sosa Abascal, SJ, 68, from Venezuela. God has been propitious to us in Rome! Bator.

Roman Dispatches 12
"On the day before the election everything that is needed for it should be carefully prepared." So opens the section on the final preparation for the election of the Superior General. Today, Thursday, 13 October 2016, the electors and delegates drew the curtain on Murmuratio. There's a sense of relief, but also of anticipation. Several are exhausted. The air of solemnity has thickened, as each elector retreats into a space of quiet to ruminate on the outcome of four days of intense Murmuratio and to make a final supplication for divine light. Tomorrow will be historic and replete with rituals and oaths. It will begin with a concelebrated Mass presided by the Vicar General at the nearby Church of the Holy Spirit, following which the electors will process into the Aula, sing Veni Creator Spiritus, listen to an allocution delivered by one of the Assistants ad providentiam, then settle into quiet meditation. No further discussion is permitted – only silence. Total silence. The doors of the Aula will be locked and manned so that electors "cannot leave until they elect a General." Sounds pretty petrifying! There's provision for several rounds of balloting, but even that may not be necessary. Electors could actually choose the General "by common inspiration." Should there be a sudden gust of divine inspiration before balloting begins and somehow everybody agreed on the same person, causa finita est! There'll be no election and "that man is the General."Fini! That'd be quite dramatic and unprecedented in the history of the Society. Inshallah, the Society of Jesus will have a new Superior General tomorrow. He'll be a Jesuit "Professed of four vows, whether present or absent." May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 11

Today, Wednesday, 12 October 2016, the rhythm of activities around the Aula and the Curia is somewhat elastic, expanding and contracting intermittently. Every half hour scores of electors and delegates gravitate towards the unofficial meeting point called Sala Nadal, identify their interlocutors and retreat to a quiet spot, only to reappear thirty minutes later and repeat the ritual. You can tell the pressure is on to get through that list of interlocutors and squeeze in all the appointments that's fit to make. The seriousness with which electors and delegates have assumed their responsibility is truly impressive. If any member had illusion of a four-day furlough, it's turned out to be precisely that – an illusion. There's something intriguing yet mystical about Murmuratio. Unlike politics and politicking, the focus is on persons, as electors inquire about the Jesuit – "present or absent" – who has the requisite qualities: What talents is he blessed with? What are his known limitations? How is God working out the salvation of souls in/through the life of this man? Grand programmes, ambitious projects and elaborate manifestos don't matter. It's akin to the process of conducting due diligence, but not in any impersonal manner. The rules encourage us to proceed with "simplicity and objectivity." Yet electors are also exhorted to pay attention to their conscience and discern the interior movements of spirits. The atmosphere is as serene with prayer and supplication as it's dense with expectation and anticipation – how will all this work out? Surely, the entire process will culminate in the election of the 31st Superior General of the Society of Jesus. Very likely, after all the intense conversations, accumulated information, countless one-on-ones, and long hours of prayer, reflection, and penance have subsided, we'll surrender to the light of hope and confidence in the divine grace, rather than human diligence, and elect "that General who would be suitable for the greater service of God." Morning came and evening followed – the third day of Murmuratio. May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.
Roman Dispatches 11

Today, Wednesday, 12 October 2016, the rhythm of activities around the Aula and the Curia is somewhat elastic, expanding and contracting intermittently. Every half hour scores of electors and delegates gravitate towards the unofficial meeting point called Sala Nadal, identify their interlocutors and retreat to a quiet spot, only to reappear thirty minutes later and repeat the ritual. You can tell the pressure is on to get through that list of interlocutors and squeeze in all the appointments that's fit to make. The seriousness with which electors and delegates have assumed their responsibility is truly impressive. If any member had illusion of a four-day furlough, it's turned out to be precisely that – an illusion. There's something intriguing yet mystical about Murmuratio. Unlike politics and politicking, the focus is on persons, as electors inquire about the Jesuit – "present or absent" – who has the requisite qualities: What talents is he blessed with? What are his known limitations? How is God working out the salvation of souls in/through the life of this man? Grand programmes, ambitious projects and elaborate manifestos don't matter. It's akin to the process of conducting due diligence, but not in any impersonal manner. The rules encourage us to proceed with "simplicity and objectivity." Yet electors are also exhorted to pay attention to their conscience and discern the interior movements of spirits. The atmosphere is as serene with prayer and supplication as it's dense with expectation and anticipation – how will all this work out? Surely, the entire process will culminate in the election of the 31st Superior General of the Society of Jesus. Very likely, after all the intense conversations, accumulated information, countless one-on-ones, and long hours of prayer, reflection, and penance have subsided, we'll surrender to the light of hope and confidence in the divine grace, rather than human diligence, and elect "that General who would be suitable for the greater service of God." Morning came and evening followed – the third day of Murmuratio. May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.
Roman Dispatches 10

Morning came and evening followed – the second day of Murmuratio, Tuesday, 11 October 2016. The bazaar of information hunting and sharing continues. Each elector or delegate is armed with a datebook, a notepad or a cell phone to request and/or make appointments, darting from one location to the other like tadpoles before settling down to a tête-à-tête. You've probably seen the pictures on the website of the Congregation. It's something to behold, even more to experience. Beneath the surface of individual meetings there's a level of connection among the electors that's developing and deepening. So too the level of trust. There's a fraternal sense that we're all in this together – not only the Jesuits gathered at the Congregation, but also the universal Society that we represent as electors and delegates. The ground-floor Borgia Chapel with the Blessed Sacrament exposed is a serene space for short reflective breaks, just like the numerous coffee bars. Surely, you'd need a regular infusion of caffeine to stay alert and maintain focus. As the tête-à-tête continues the volume of information mounts. No doubt, we'll all have tons of information to process. Hopefully, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the information gathered will be distilled into a clearly discerned position on who "would be most pleasing to God" as the next Superior General. A caveat, though, the rule exhorts electors to hold off on making up their minds until they're actually enclosed in the Aula on election day. That's a tough one to observe and to police! But point taken: Haraka haraka haina baraka. May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 9

As scheduled, the Murmuratio of General Congregation 36 kicked off in earnest today, Monday, 10 October 2016. To what shall we compare Murmuratio? It's like a bazaar, where there are sellers displaying their wares, hoping for customers, and buyers hunting for a bargain – but very discreetly. Another image would be that of a flea market, like we have in Gikomba, Nairobi, for Mitumba. All over the place there are electors and delegates, connecting and going off to a corner for a tête-à-tête. Other times it feels like the opening day of the transfer window for Barclays English Premiership League – with managers and technical directors scrambling to get a first pick or scouting for information on a really good player. Maybe it's all of these images combined. Whatever the image that best describes the experience so far, the intents and purposes are clear: electors are seeking information about persons who could have the right qualities to be Superior General, and about their talents and possible limitations. But not everybody is active in the marketplace of information trading. Some electors retreat intermittently to the chapel for some quite time of prayer and reflection before the Blessed Sacrament and re-emerge energized. All told, there's ample evidence that we're taking this very seriously. Listening is intense. Notetaking frenetic. Engagement profound. And camaraderie edifying – not forgetting the occasional outbursts of laughter. Morning came and evening followed – the first day of Murmuratio. May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 8

Today, Sunday, 9 October 2016, feels like the first break day of a long retreat. So, it's no surprise that the house is unusually quiet. With all the solemnity and seriousness that characterised the first week of General Congregation 36, one is permitted to think that we have been on a retreat. It feels good to breathe some fresh air outside of the Aula. Speaking of which, there's a flu going around and several members have caught and passed it on. What an admirable example of fraternal generosity! On weekends in the General Curia it is customary to a notice on the doors of companions a sign that says: "FUORI ROMA." In my non-existent Italian I translate it as "(Has) FLED ROME." In the history of the church there were many a pope, emperor and Roman who fled Rome. That tradition appears to continue, albeit analogously, as many electors and delegates have taken advantage of the break day and "fled Rome." Just as well. For the next four days there will be a restriction on movements. Certainly, there'll be no possibility of fleeing Rome. During the Mumuratio lunch will be served at the Curia, so nobody has any excuse for leaving the house. Does this sound and look strange? It's certainly not true that electors and delegates will be fasting the entire time. Thing is, Ignatius wanted maximum concentration and focus on the business at hand, i.e. election of the General. Distraction will be kept to a minimum. The communication team did a short video on Mumuratio. It's available for viewing on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yYMiieBnyA A very interesting intro to what we are about to begin tomorrow. May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 7

Today, Saturday, 8 October 2016, was an experience of two uniquely Jesuit traditions. We are getting ready for the Mumuratio, which will begin on Monday.... More on that later. I was hoping that someone would tell me how it all began. Why four days? Why this format? A plausible explanation is one which relates the practice to the four days that Ignatius spent trying to wiggle himself out of his election as the first Superior General until a wise old Franciscan spiritual director told him: "Enough, Inigo, just do it!" Three veterans of GC 35 shared their experience of Mumuratio. The aim was to give electors and delegates an idea of how it works. There's probably no way of knowing how it works until you've experienced it. So, we'll see. Then the Congregation dealt with the issue of ambitioning. Who wants to be Father General? If you do, you'd be better off keeping it to yourself! Why? Hear this, there's a special tribunal called "The Judges on Ambitioning." They are the most senior Jesuit electors in the order in which they entered religious life from the various regions of the Society. Think of these wazee as some constitutional court or electoral tribunal, except that the crimes for which they have authority to punish suspects have nothing to do with electioneering as we know it. In politics you can't get anywhere without ambitioning, even scheming to win nomination and elections. You campaign for yourself or for your preferred candidate. That's just the way it works. Woe to you, though, if you're a Jesuit elector at a General Congregation! The slightest hint of ambitioning or canvassing for the highest position of leadership in the Society, either for yourself or for another, would land you in front of the nine "Judges on Ambitioning." But wait, before you accuse anybody of ambitioning, you'd better have incontestable moral certitude of your allegations, because you could end up being hurled before the wazee for false accusation. Either way, wallaahi tallaahi, God help you if the wazee find you guilty as charged! May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 6

They say you don't live by the bank of a river and wash your hands with spittle! So, today, 7 October 2016, all the electors and delegates of GC36 made a pilgrimage to the Vatican. The aim, ostensibly, was to pass through the Holy Door. Thousands flock to Rome to pass through the Door of Mercy. So, why not us, living and working as we are these day next door to the Vatican? So, we did the door pilgrimage and got the indulgence attached to this pious act. We were all decked out in assorted clerical attires, save for the usual suspects – there's always one! It rained cats and dogs going and coming! We celebrated the Eucharist at the Basilica, presided by the oldest elector, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres. This was the real motive for going to the tomb of St. Peter – to ask God's blessings on the work of the coming four days when we'll be in seclusion for the process of mumurationes – whispering, murmuring and gathering information discreetly about candidates for the office of the Superior General. The rule says it's a time of prayer, reflection and penance. I'm not sure what the penance part would look like. Back to the business of the Congregation, after Mass we met in Assistancy groups to discuss the profile and propose names for offices the Secretary and Assistant Secretaries of the Congregation. This guy is big deal – the equivalent of the speaker of the house or party chief whip. The election in the Aula produced the following results: Orlando Torres (Secretary), Agnelo Mascarenhas and Francisco Javier Alvares (Assistant Secretaries). May God be propitious to us in Rome. – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 5

Today, Thursday, 6 October 2016, was a taste of the school of discernment. Electors and delegates got into the business of agreeing a schedule for the coming few days leading to the election of a new General, and before that the Secretary of the Congregation. How do you get 214 Jesuits to move in the same direction on an issue that elicits opposing and conflicting reactions, opinions and sentiments? Or, to use an imagery that is growing in popularity in the Aula, how do you get them to "row" together? The cynic would say leading or managing any group of Jesuits is like trying to herd cats. We have a secret, though – perhaps one of our best kept secrets. It's called discernment – community apostolic discernment, to call it by its full title. As we deliberated on the schedule and waded further into the De Statu document, I got a sense of the grace of discernment when it works. Its effect, as described in the Spiritual Exercises, is akin to a sponge taking in water. It's true indication of where the Spirit is leading us. But it can be frustrating, too; I certainly got that same feeling as well. Sometimes there is confusion and the whole process can be disconcerting. What is most reassuring, though, is the realization that the electors and delegates are willing to take the time, with patience and forbearance, to find the will of God in regard to who among the membership of the Society should be the next General and how the process leading up to that election should unfold. These are some of the issues we have grappled with today and which should occupy our thoughts and conversations, prayer and conversation, in the coming days. May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 4

Like yesterday, the electors have spent practically the whole of today, Wednesday, 5 October 2016, in groups reflecting on sections of the De Statu Societatis. These groups are not fixed; they vary by language, province of provenance and matters under discussion. The De Statu report is comprehensive and dense. We seem to be absorbing it in bite-size portions. Three things strike me in these sharing groups. First, the value of listening before speaking and the importance of listening as prelude to reflection and prayer. Listening requires intention and attention, alertness and focus. What the companions have to share concerns the good of the universal Society. Hence it is important not to miss out on what the other is saying – it may well be what the Spirit is saying to the Society at this time and place in our history. I should add that a big help to alertness are the multiple coffee bars in the Curia and around the Aula. These bars are outfitted with magical Italian machines that can dispense any type of coffee or tea in seconds – Macchiato, Lungo, Expresso, Cappuccino, Latte... you name it! They say the only thing these machines can't do is to shine your shoes or wipe your nose! Our new Students' Commons in Hekima University College could certainly do with one of these machines. Back to my point, the second thing: language is important. We don't have a shared language of communication across the Society. It helps to have facility in more than one language. Yet what allows us to speak and understand a common language is less linguistic than foundational. Like the Pentecost it seems we can understand ourselves – our common concerns, shared experiences and collective aspirations – because we all drink from the same well of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit formation. Whether we speak of magis or depth, lights or shadows, consolations or desolations, mission or ministry, apostolate or community, each one seems perfectly able to understand the other in his own Ignatian tongue. The net outcome of these two points, which is the third, is a knowledge in depth of one another that prepares us for the task of electing the next General. I have the impression that when that happens, it will be an exercise in communal apostolic discernment of the greater good and that which is most confirm to the will of God. May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 3

The opening prayer today, Tuesday, 4 October 2016, led by a scholastic from the German Province stirred fond memories of Eastern Africa Province novices and Hekima University College scholastics leading the daily prayers four years ago at the Congregation of Procurators in Nairobi. I have a sense the electors and delegates are settling down gradually to the business of the Congregation. "Business" is probably not the right word to use at this time. Members of the Congregation continue to gather in small language groups to explore and share about their interior disposition vis-à-vis the De Statu – the document on the State of the Society of Jesus today. Part of the intent of the document is to present "everything that would seem important for a good election of the General." The sharing is not merely introspective and impersonal. Members are sharing vocation stories and narratives of their apostolic journeys in the Society. We are invited to share about our favourite saint, our best years in the Society, or a chapter of our autobiography. Some discussion questions may seem trivial, but the process is helping to promote mutual knowledge and to build a union of minds and hearts. We are growing more comfortable in one another's company (read: La Compagnie in French for "Society" of Jesus) and discovering a universal sense of fraternity and companionship that I am sure would contribute greatly to the goals and purposes of General Congregation 36. There were fewer glitches today with the use of digital and touchscreen technology. At the end of the Congregation there should be a few less digitally challenged Jesuits in the world. Even if they say a new broom sweeps better than an old one, I'm convinced that a Samsung Tablet is still no match for my good old Nokia phone. Experience trumps novelty. May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

Roman Dispatches 2

General Congregation 36 of the Society of Jesus got off to a solemn start on Sunday, 2 October, 2016. The scheduled Mass at the Church of the Gesù (aka "Mother Church of the Society") was presided by the Master General of the Order of Preachers, Rev. Bruno Cadoré. Taking a cue from the gospel of the day, "Lord, increase our faith," he called Jesuits to embark on "the audacity of the improbable," in the life and mission of the Society. The well-choreographed and well-attended Roman Eucharistic liturgy lasted two hours. The climax was a series of special prayers offered at the reliquary of the saints and blesseds of the Society. The prayers were led by outgoing Father General Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, and all the presidents of the six conferences of the Society. Fr. Mike Lewis, SJ, stole the show with his supplication belted out in high Zulu:"Nkulunkulu somandla wathembisa uBaba wethu Ignatius...."The Hekima contingent was very well behaved, especially Joce, who was decked out in his roman collar! I've got photo evidence. May God be propitious to us in Rome! Bator.

Roman Dispatches 1

Today, Monday, 3 October 2016, was a day of emotions, but it was not because of Jocelyn's birthday. Before the packed aula, Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, formally tendered his resignation as the 30th Superior General. It was an occasion devoid of fanfare but replete with all the traits for which he had come to be known: simplicity, wisdom, confidence, depth, joy and wisdom. The affection of the companions for their leader was evident in the sustained standing ovation at different times during the occasion. The manner in which he tendered his resignation and the rationale behind his decision spoke volumes about the detachment and freedom of this model Jesuit. In sum, for him, it was a decision taken for the good of the Society and in the best interest of its mission. I couldn't but think of important lesson here for many of our sit-tight leaders on the continent. Officially, the affairs of the Society now lie in the hands of Fr. James Grummer, SJ, who will serve as Vicar General until a new General is elected. For the rest of the morning session, the Congregation dealt with procedural and business matters, a big part of it was navigating the rather sophisticated IT support systems for taking attendance, translations, voting, etc. With each elector/delegate receiving a Samsung Tablet, it took a while to get familiar and comfortable with the intricacies of this nifty machine. I confess: it made me fall in love all over again with my trusted and rugged "dumb" Nokia phone. The afternoon session was dedicated to a presentation of the De Statu report, i.e. on the state of the Society. Over the next few days electors will discuss this document to get a better sense of where the Society stands and what kind of a General would best serve the needs of the Society at this time. May God be propitious to us in Rome! – Bator.

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