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New leadership for the Jesuits

ROME (SE): Father Arturo Sosa Abascal was elected as the general of the Society of Jesus by a general congregation in Rome on October 14, becoming the 30th successor of the society’s founding leader, St. Ignatius Loyola, in 1534.

Vatican Radio described the new Jesuit general as being serene, although he said that he was surprised by his election. Rather, Father Sosa described himself as grateful and ready to respond with joy, in an interview with the Vatican radio station.

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, on 12 November 1948, he becomes the first non-European general of the Jesuits, like his counterpart a few blocks from the society’s Rome generalate, Pope Francis, who is the first non-European to sit in the Chair of Peter—and a Jesuit.

Sixty-eight-year-old Father Sosa has a background in education, social work and administration. He highlighted what he described as the two pivotal roles of the Jesuits, to uphold the faith of the Church and to deepen the understanding of the world through research and education.

In education, he is well grounded, having taught at the Foundation Council of the Andrés Bello Catholic University and spending 10 years as the rector of the Catholic University of Táchira.

But it is his background in social work that Father Keith D’Souza sj, from St. Pius X College in Mumbai, India, sees as one of his important assets.

“He is well experienced in the area of the social ministry, both theoretically and practically. He has a doctorate in political science and was in charge of the social apostolate of his province,” he told AsiaNews.

Father Sosa was also the director of the Centro Gumilla, a social and action research centre in Venezuela, which Father D’Souza sees as an important part of this background, as a sizeable number of Jesuits work directly in this field, as well as in education.

He said that he hopes that the new general can help to relate research and teaching with social concerns.

“Our spiritual and pastoral ministries too have a strong social emphasis,” Father D’Souza commented.

“In the southern hemisphere, our philosophical, theological and pastoral reflection needs to be more pragmatically related with the social issues and problems that people face, in our context of multiculturalism, diversity of faiths, impoverishment and different forms of discrimination and marginalisation,” he said.

While Father Sosa was not so quick to set his own priorities, as he noted that discussion was still in progress among the delegates to the general congregation, he hinted strongly that key issues for him are interfaith dialogue, addressing the scandal of poverty seriously and supporting the millions of migrants and refugees that have emerged in the world today.

As the leader of the world’s 17,000 Jesuit priests and brothers, the experience in governance that Father Sosa has had as the provincial of his home province will provide a valuable asset in his tool kit.

In addition, he also speaks Spanish, Italian, English and has a good smattering of French.

Father Alan Fogarty sj knows Father Sosa well and described him to America Magazine as being a man of great faith and a real leader, because he has a vision coming straight from a strong sense of the history of the Jesuit society.

“He is a great listener, a man of patience and believes deeply in discernment, in the tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola,” Father Fogarty continued.

He went on to describe him as being extremely friendly, easy to talk to and sensitive, with a deep concern for others. What Father Fogarty called “a true companion of Jesus.”

Since the previous general congregation, Father Sosa has been a counsellor general to the outgoing general, Father Adolfo Nicolás. 

He has also been the delegate to the society’s Interprovincial Houses and Works, which include the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical Biblical Institute, the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Vatican Observatory—all of which are based in Rome.

But what does he intend to prioritise during his time as general? 

He himself says he will follow the vocation of the Society of Jesus, which is what Jesus wants it to do; to serve the Church within its own vocation and support what the bishops and pope ask it to do.

Filling a position that is often dubbed the black pope, Father Sosa said that it is a term that he does not like much, as it implies a position of covert power, but the calling of the society is to influence through service, not be at the top of the pyramid of decision-making.

And what does he like about being a Jesuit? “Everything. What attracted me from an early age was the Jesuits are an apostolic force in many areas,” he told Vatican Radio.

Finally, he thanked his Spanish predecessor, who will return to his previous work in The Philippines as spiritual director of a pastoral centre.

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