October 19, 2016 — It’s been a whirlwind few days for Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, newly elected leader of the Society of Jesus. First there was the election itself, last Friday, when the 67-year-old Venezuelan Jesuit learned that he would serve as the successor to St. Ignatius, making Fr. Sosa the first Latin American to have the job. Then, there was a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Jesuits’ mother church in Rome followed by a Tuesday news conference with nearly 70 reporters and 12 camera crews at the Jesuit headquarters, just blocks from the Vatican.
In each moment since his election, Fr. Sosa has emphasized one thing: that Jesuits need audacity to seek not only “the improbable, but the impossible.” He’s called on the Society of Jesus to answer the Lord’s call, as Our Lady did, “Be it done to me according to your word.”
Answering the Lord’s call is something Fr. Sosa has done throughout his Jesuit life.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1948, Fr. Sosa entered the Society of Jesus in September 1966 and was ordained a priest in 1977. In addition to earning bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and theology and a doctorate in political science, he has served as provincial superior of the Jesuits in Venezuela and led the Jesuits’ social apostolate in Venezuela and the Jesuit-run social and action research center. Among his distinguished academic posts, he has served as a member of the founding board of the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas and rector of the Catholic University of Táchira. He has taught and researched political science in many different institutes and colleges, and in 2004, was a visiting professor at the Latin-American Studies Center of Georgetown University.
Immediately prior to his election last Friday, Fr. Sosa was the Delegate of the General for the International Houses and Works of the Society of Jesus in Rome. He succeeds Father Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, 80, who resigned Oct. 3 after serving as Superior General since 2008.
At his first press conference as Superior General on Oct. 18, Fr. Sosa said the top priority for Jesuits right now is “to work for reconciliation in the world.”
“We have to strive for reconciliation between human beings, reconciliation with God and reconciliation with the created world,” he said.
Fr. Sosa also stressed that Jesuits need to have “intellectual depth.” He previously touched on this in his Mass of Thanksgiving homily: “It is necessary to have an extraordinary intellectual depth in order to think creatively about the ways in which our service to the mission of Christ Jesus can be more effective, in the creative tension of the Ignatian magis. To think about ways of deeply understanding the unique moment of human history in which we are living and to contribute to the search for alternatives for overcoming poverty, inequality and oppression.”
At the press conference, Fr. Sosa emphasized that it is “most important” for Jesuits to have intellectual depth because it is “one of the biggest services we can give to the church.”
Talking to the press, Fr. Sosa recalled his own vocation; he said he was impressed by the Jesuit brothers at the school he attended in Venezuela. “I got my vocation more from the brothers than the priests. They have an incredible vocation.”
Fr. Sosa was also asked if he liked to be called the “Black Pope,” a nickname associated with the role of Superior General. He said he was not fond of the name, explaining that since the beginning, the Jesuits have wanted to respond to the popes’ requests to serve where there was need, because they believe in the pope’s universal vision.
Fr. Sosa is acquainted with Pope Francis, whom he first met at General Congregation 33, when both were delegates. He has met him several times since then, both in Buenos Aires when Pope Francis was bishop there and in Rome since Francis’ election. Fr. Sosa received a phone call from Pope Francis to congratulate him after his election, but has not yet met with him as Superior General.
Praising his predecessor, Fr. Adolfo Nicolàs, SJ, at the news conference, Fr. Sosa thanked him for his “dedicated service.” Fr. Nicolàs is currently spending time in Spain before he returns to the Philippines to work as spiritual director at the East Asian Pastoral Institute at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Those who know Fr. Sosa have no trouble seeing him as Superior General. Father Arturo Peraza, SJ, provincial of the Venezuela Province Jesuits, had Fr. Sosa as a spiritual director for several years while Fr. Peraza was in formation. “He taught me to look at God with the eyes of the poor, with serious analysis so as to understand the reality that surrounded us, to see in the history of our country a way to understand our present and find paths to the future,” said Fr. Peraza. “I would say that he taught me the meaning of a faith that is incarnate.”
Fr. Peraza also recalled the work Fr. Sosa did in the Venezuela Province, including his assignment as rector at the Catholic University of Táchira, which, Fr. Peraza said, Fr. Sosa was determined to make into a border university on the frontier.
“He went to a university that was a good school, but that only looked interiorly into itself; and he opened it to the reality of the frontier by bringing it into contact with neighboring communities, with the dioceses, with our frontier parishes, with the schools of Fe y Alegría in the area, with the reality of refugees, with the world of the farm worker.”
Father Jorge Cela, SJ, president of the Conference of Latin American Provincials and a longtime friend of Fr. Sosa’s, said “Arturo’s history tells us he is a Renaissance man. His most obvious qualities are his people skills and his ability to relate. I think we chose him also because he is a strategist; his training in political science and his ability gives him a strategic vision that goes beyond the obvious.”
Fr. Sosa, only the 31st Superior General in the Society’s 476-year history, now leads the 16,376 Jesuits worldwide. This includes about 11,785 priests; 1,192 brothers; 2,681 scholastics; and 718 novices.
The election was held on Oct. 14 after four days of murmuratio, a centuries-old practice of one-on-one conversation and information gathering, designed to prepare the delegation for the selection of a new Superior General.
While Fr. Sosa’s election as Superior General completes one of the main tasks of GC 36, the group’s work is not over. Now the delegates will tackle matters of mission, governance and the state of the Society. Topics may range from the Society’s changing demographics to challenges in worldwide ministries, to the Jesuit response to a rapidly changing world, environmental concerns, poverty and violence. [Sources: GC36.org, Crux, America]
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.