Saturday, January 05, 2008

Farewell, Father-General... Hello, Murmuratio

As you know, the 35th General Congregation of the Jesuits begins in Rome on Monday, and with it the end of Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach's 25 year reign at the helm of the church's largest religious order.

Elected the 29th Superior General in 1983, the Dutch cleric who devoted his ministry to studying the East was not atop the list of favorites going into GC 33, but Kolvenbach's finesse and quiet spirit made him the trusted broker both his confreres and the Vatican needed to buff up relations in the wake of the tumultuous post-Conciliar tenure of his legendary predecessor, Fr Pedro Arrupe.

Not since the Austrian-born Wlodzimierz Ledóchowski died in 1942 after 27 years at the helm has a successor of Ignatius of Loyola enjoyed a similar length of tenure; only six Fathers-General have held the lifetime post for over two decades.

To mark his departure from the Jesuit headquarters on Borgo Santo Spirito, Kolvenbach (shown at right on a 1985 trip to India, now home to the Society's largest national bloc) received a top-flight Vatican send-off:
"Choosing one from among the thousands of Jesuits capable (of being general), the society will say what it expects for its future: a prophet or a wise man, an innovator or a moderator, a contemplative or an activist, a point man or a man of unity," Father Kolvenbach said in a joint interview with Vatican Radio and the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

The election, which will take place after formal presentations on the strengths and challenges facing the more than 19,200 Jesuits in the world, must point to the Jesuit who will help the order "progress on the path of God," he said.

In the interview, released Jan. 4, Father Kolvenbach was asked about the Jesuits' commitment to interreligious dialogue and particularly to dialogue with Islam.

"For a dialogue to be possible, it is necessary to begin with a sincere mutual respect that goes beyond mere courtesy," he said. "Without this there will not be dialogue, but confrontation."

Father Kolvenbach said the starting place is the "dialogue of life," in which members of different religions share their hopes and dreams for their lives, their families and communities, including "the desire to live in peace, in security and in an environment free from pollution."...

Father Kolvenbach also was asked what it would be like to answer to a provincial superior after being the top Jesuit for so long.

"After almost 25 years of listening to almost 20,000 Jesuits, obedience to just one should mark a time of peace," he said.
At about mid-month, once the Status Societatis -- the delegates' global report on the "State of the Society" -- has been presented, the GC's 226 electors will move to accept the Kolvenbach's retirement and proceed to finding his successor.

Before a ballot is cast, the assembled will undertake the traditional four days of "murmuratio," during which they may discreetly inquire as to a prospect's qualities. Given the exceptional two-year preparation period for this election, in a first, the delegates were invited to send names of generabili to the Jesuit Curia so they could be better briefed in the run-up to the voting (and the Holy See could vet a list of the more-mentioned names).

Once the election begins in the Aula shown above, as many ballots as necessary are held until one name acquires a simple majority; the departing superior was chosen in the "Black Conclave's" first scrutiny, Arrupe on the third.

The choice can't take effect, however, without papal confirmation. While the current "White" Pope will likely be waiting anxiously for the traditional message to arrive with the name of his "Black" counterpart-in-waiting, the last instance wasn't as seamless.

In his "Letter from Rome" for today's edition of The Tablet, Robert Mickens recounted the backstory of Kolvenbach's ascent.

As the Dutchman was being elected in Septembr 1983, Mickens wrote, John Paul II was en route back to Rome from a visit to Austria. Since the electors can't adjourn until the pontiff's approval is relayed back to them -- at which time the appointment becomes public -- the congregation remain sequestered as the Volo Papale touched down at Fiumicino.

"When [John Paul] was finally told," Mickens wrote, the late Pope "asked who Kolvenbach was."

"You appointed him rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute two years ago," an aide replied. According to the story, Wojtyla said, "Well, in that case, I confirm him."

A favorite of Benedict XVI, Kolvenbach will open the gathering on Monday by lighting the traditional lamp at the tomb of Ignatius and praying that "in this time of grace we may seek and find in all things God’s divine presence and know his sovereign will."

As similar lamps are lit in Jesuit chapels around the world, each will burn for the duration of the months-long meeting.

SVILUPPO: Alongside its appearance in the Letter, GC gets a feature in the current Tablet.

[Kolvenbach's] period of office, said [UK provincial] Fr [Michael] Holman, has taken the Society "to new geographical frontiers, to Albania, for example, to Kosovo, Russia and to many other places by promoting the Jesuit Refugee Service ... he has encouraged us in whatever ministry to meet the challenge of secularism and unbelief with a witness to the Gospel made credible by our witness to the poor, to use effectively the tools of technology and the media, to adopt new forms of ministry with young people and young adults"....

After the problems of the early 1980s, the Jesuit powers-that-be hope that the person selected [as Superior-General] will be acceptable to the Pope. It is said that a long list of some 60 names of likely candidates has already been submitted to the Vatican, just in case there are problems. And there is another issue where Pope Benedict has had an input. The Society's various provinces send in postulata, or topics they would like to be debated at the Congregation. Several provinces made the suggestion that in future the General should retire, perhaps at 80. Discussion on this, which would be a major change to the Society's Constitution, has been vetoed by the Holy See. Benedict XVI, a Rome-based Jesuit suggested to me, was alarmed by the thought that if the "black pope" was obliged to retire at 80, people might start to expect the same of the "white" one....

The Jesuit Constitution distinguishes between Ordinary and Extraordinary General Congregations. The former meet, like this one, to elect a General, before going on to other matters proposed for discussion. The Extraordinary ones are called by the General to debate particular problems facing the Society. One Jesuit commentator has recently remarked that, in terms of giving the Society direction, the Extraordinary Congregations have been the more successful.

But this Ordinary Congregation is extraordinary in its own way. Some of the postulata have already been mentioned - recruitment, and governance. Whatever delegates' wishes, it will not discuss the arcane subject of "grades" (status) within the Jesuits, a topic banned at previous Congregations by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II. It will instead talk about such traditional topics as community life, Jesuit identity and obedience. Never before, however, has the Congregation discussed ecology. Yet no other single subject drew so many postulata from around the world. One may not be able to predict who the next General of the Society will be, but one thing looks certain: the Jesuits are going green.
PHOTO 1: 30 giorni
PHOTO 2: Don Doll, SJ