ROME — With a Mass near the tomb of St. Ignatius of Loyola, 215 Jesuits from around the world will gather in Rome Oct. 2 to begin a general congregation meeting and elect a new superior general for the order.
The 215 elected and ex-officio delegates include six religious brothers; and 33 of the delegates are from the United States and Canada, said Jesuit Father Patrick Mulemi, director of the Jesuit communications office in Rome.
Pope Francis is probably the best-known member of the Jesuits. As a priest, he participated in two general congregations: one held in 1974-75 and the other in 1983.
He is scheduled to be in Azerbaijan when the general congregation begins but is expected to address the delegates sometime during their meeting.
A committee has been working since January on a comprehensive report on the status of the Society of Jesus, Father Mulemi said. The report should be presented to the general congregation Oct. 3.
The current superior, Father Adolfo Nicolas, announced in 2014 that he would tender his resignation this year after more than eight years in office. He turned 80 in April.
After members of the general congregation discuss the status report, they will be asked to accept Father Nicolas’ resignation, which they are expected to do even though the superior general of the Jesuits is elected for life.
In an interview published in July by the Jesuit headquarters, Father Nicolas said the congregation is free to accept or reject his resignation request. But “we need agility and daring in facing the future,” and if the delegates insist he remain superior general, they “will have to elect a vicar to provide for the coming years in which my abilities will certainly be greatly diminished, a process that I am already beginning to feel at present.”
The process of electing a new superior will begin sometime after the presentation and discussion of the status report.
The congregation members themselves determine the schedule for the meeting. Other than the opening Mass and initial presentation of the status report “there is no set date for the rest of the business,” Father Mulemi said, and “there is no way of knowing when it will end.”
As of Jan. 1, the total number of Jesuits in the world was 16,376: 11,785 priests, 1,192 brothers, 2,681 scholastics and 718 novices — a net loss of 351 members from Jan. 1, 2015, Father Mulemi said.
The average age of the 215 Jesuits participating in the general congregation is 56 years, he said. The oldest member of the body will be Father Nicolas, and the youngest is Jesuit Brother James Edema from the Eastern Africa province, who is 39.
In an interview with the Italian Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica, Father Nicolas said he hoped the general congregation not only would elect a good superior, but would make decisions and set policies that would result in “a better religious life in the spirit of the Gospel and a renewed capacity for imagination.”
“With respect to the previous congregation (in 2008), times have changed,” he said. “We need boldness, creativity and courage to face our mission as part of the greater mission of God in the world.”
Jesuits and members of other religious orders, he said, have a great desire to respond with generosity to the challenges people face today, and “a new hope has been generated with Pope Francis, who understands us well and knows the place and mission of religious life in the church.”
The Society of Jesus is the largest religious order of men. They are followed by the Salesians, the Franciscans, the Capuchins and the Benedictines.