General Congregation 35
This document assembled by:
George Traub, S.J.
This gathering of Jesuits from all over the world was called to accept superior general Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s resignation at age 80 and to elect his successor. Its major accomplishment is said to be its choosing Adolfo Nicolas for this office. Fr. Nicolas, 72, a native of Spain, had spent the larger part of his life in the Far East. The delegates evidently thought of the global reality of our broken, lovable 21st-century world as its defining characteristic. In electing “Nico,” they were choosing indeed a great-hearted man with extensive cross-cultural experience and a global worldview.
The other person who played a large part in GC 35 was Pope Benedict XVI. In his letter to Fr. Kolvenbach about the forthcoming congregation and again in his address to the delegates, he showed a genuine understanding and support of the Jesuit charism—the call to work often at the “frontiers” in ministries like the intellectual apostolate and intercultural and interreligious dialogue—with all the risks and inevitable tensions these works imply. (This understanding and support was especially welcome on the heels of the previous pope’s apparently suspicious attitude toward the Society.) And the congregation in its first decree responded warmly to the Holy Father.
For a number of Jesuits, the decrees of GC 35 do not have the sweep and power of those from GC 34 (1995). Still, Decrees 2, 3 and 6 offer important perspectives, in the light of current realities, to Jesuits and to the partners with whom they work. In our time, the pace of change has been accelerated by three things: technology, environmental awareness, and the sharp increase in the number of refugees and trafficked and displaced persons. The delegates of GC 35 had these factors in mind as they drafted the documents.
The following summaries are used with the kind permission of Michael Holman, SJ, and the British Jesuit Province:
Decree 2: A Fire that Kindles Other Fires—Rediscovering our Charism
The title of this decree on Jesuit identity is a quote from St. Alberto Hurtado, SJ, and refers to the fact that the Jesuit vocation must have a multiplier effect. This inspirational document is provided by the congregation as a focus for meditation. It draws us into the experience of the first companions of St. Ignatius and compels us to work with others in our globalized yet fragmented world and changing church. It is through being fraternal and joyful, and by expressing our passion for Christ , that we can be creative in our apostolates, leading all creation back to the Father.
Decree 3: Challenges to our Mission Today—Sent to the Frontiers
This decree on “mission” is closely linked to the [previous] decree on “identity.” Our world is hurt, wounded, and suffering. Our mission is our participation in Christ’s work of reconciliation: with God, each other, and creation. Our mission is not limited to what we do, but is reflected in how we live, respectful of each other and of the gifts of creation. The decree contains several key themes: reaffirmation of the Jesuits’ mission [the service of faith and the promotion of justice] and its new context [a globalized world]; an emphasis on right relationships and reconciliation; and our apostolic response to new challenges. It also confirms the Society’s global apostolic preferences [Africa, China, the intellectual apostolate,] interprovincial institutions in Rome, and migrants and refugees.
Decree 6: Collaboration at the Heart of Mission
Jesuits today draw much of their energy from working with lay colleagues, other religious, and the diocesan clergy, as well as women and men of other faiths. This decree answers three important questions: What is it that makes a work “Jesuit”—especially when the director of the work may not be a Jesuit? What kind of formation do our collaborators need to maintain and develop our Jesuit identity? What links can we forge with others who share our Ignatian charism to make our work more fruitful? We remember that we have a joint responsibility for our mission in Christ. [We must . . . look to our collaborators in mission and say, with gratitude and affection, that the call we have received is a call shared by us together.]