(Vatican Radio) The Society of Jesus is to hold the first plenary session of its 36th General Congregation at the Jesuit Curia in Rome on October 3rd.
The Congregation will last until it has completed its business which is to discuss the renewal of Jesuit life and mission within the complexities of the current world scenario; and to discuss renewal of governance.
A General Congregation represents the supreme governing body of the Jesuit order. It has only taken place 35 times since the Society was founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
During this congregation 215 Jesuits from around the globe will gather to elect a new Superior General as Father Adolfo Nicolas has announced his intention to resign.
Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke to Jesuit Father Patrick Mulemi, Director of the Communications and Public Relations Office of the Society of Jesus about how he expects the General Congregation to play out.
Asked what is the inspiration behind the Logo for GC 36 which reads ‘Rowing into the Deep’ Fr Mulemi explains it comes from Pope Francis’ message to the Jesuits upon the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus in 2014 in the Church of the Gesù in Rome.
“He invited us to row, he invited us to keep rolling and he invited us to row along with him ‘to weather the storms’” he says.
He also says that in a way the logo reflects the complexity of the world today and the challenges faced by the Jesuits although the atmosphere in which they are about to gather is of utmost serenity.
Fr Mulemi explains that the ‘postulata’ (petitions/requests received from province congregations) have already been presented to the Congregation from different parts of the world and they reflect the different challenges, the different works, the different intentions and the direction people want the Society to take in different parts of the globe.
“That’s what we are going to be looking at especially in the first week of the Congregation: looking at the state of the Society and what Jesuits in different parts of the world are saying; how they are experiencing the Society, the Church; and more in general, how they are experiencing the ministry. So all that is going to have a play in the general direction the Congregation takes” he says.
It is meaningful that the GC 36 is happening at a moment in time in which there has been a significant demographic shift with a decrease in vocations in the past 50 years in Europe and North America, and an increase in vocations in Asia and Africa.
Fr Mulemi points out that given the changing demographics, like most of the Church the Society is moving towards the global South.
“It is shaping up very well, we have good numbers coming into the Society so there is great hope that we are going to be moving in the right direction” he says.
He concedes that the ‘global South’ has a lot to give to the world and says that for a long time the rest of the world was ‘not listening’, not hearing the voice of the South. But more and more, he says, the voice of the South is being heard in the world and in the Church.
“The shape of our ministries is going to be defined in the next few years by the activities and experiences of the global South” he says.
As regards having a Jesuit for Pope, Fr Malemi says: “it is great!”
“He has helped the Society to be heard, for people to get to know what the Society is really all about” he says.
Fr Mulemi says that for many years the Society of Jesus has tried to project its image; some people have misunderstood, others have understood well, but, he says, with Francis as Pope that has changed the dynamics and finally people are beginning to understand what it means to be a Jesuit.
“All you have to do these days is look at what the Pope is doing, how he does his thing and you say: ‘oh, OK: he’s doing that mostly because of his Jesuit formation and this is what the Jesuits have been about all these years! A lot of the things he talks about, we nod our heads and say: ‘yeah – that’s our experience – that’s the world we live in, that’s the world we serve, that’s how we carry out our ministry’” he says.