California Provincial Father Michael F. Weiler, SJ, is one of five delegates from the California and Oregon provinces in Rome for General Congregation 36 where Jesuits from around the world are meeting to elect a new Superior General.
Fr. Weiler is sending periodic photos and observations of the Congregation’s activities. Check back often for his latest dispatches from Rome.
We are in what they call the “ad negotia” stage of the Congregation. It means dealing with business. The business is not thrilling and consists mostly of minor changes and adaptations to our rules and protocols to make our apostolic works simpler and more effective. Imagine choosing furniture for your home through a committee of 215. Lots of opinions. As wearisome as it can be, it has long-term importance because — as you would have to deal with that couch you chose for the family room for a decade or more — so will we live with these changes until the next General Congregation.
Italy provided some excitement this evening as two separate earthquakes gave us good shakings about an hour apart. Seems the epicenters were in the region that suffered the devastating earthquake some weeks ago. Prayers that they did not suffer similar damage from these two quakes.
October 24, 2016 - Day Twenty-three
Today was another peak in the Congregation. At 9 o'clock this morning, Pope Francis in his white cassock entered the aula to thunderous applause. We had been forewarned that he would be visiting us so that we would be dressed in our clerical garb, but were told most strictly the keep the visit secret. The video (http://jesuits.org/story?TN=PROJECT-20161024090203) of the visit and his address to the congregation is already on the web. He was most gracious. First, he joined us for the usual morning prayer, then gave his address in Spanish. Printed copies of his address in English, Italian, and French had been distributed to the delegates as we arrived this morning.
Following his talk, the Pope remained with us for a 90-minute question and answer session. That part of his visit will be kept within the confidentiality of the aula. He was most gracious, spoke of us as family, and answered every question forthrightly. The questions completed, he took time to greet each one of us individually. Applause broke out when he embraced Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, his press secretary, and Fr. Alejandro Tilve, SJ, the provincial of Argentina.
After the greetings, which went for a long time as he greeted every one of the 215 delegates individually, Pope Francis got into the front passenger seat of a black Volkswagen sedan and headed back to the Vatican.
October 13, 2016 - Day Twelve
Thirty-nine intense one-on-one conversations over four days. The murmuratio was exhausting, but very effective. As the Vicar, Father Jim Grummer, S.J., admonished us when we began the week: We are to keep an open mind and reserve judgment until the moment we vote. That will happen tomorrow morning. We meet at the church across the street from the curia at 7:30 a.m. for the Mass of the Holy Spirit, at which Fr. Lisbert D’Souza, S.J., will preside and preach. Then it’s back to the aula for an hour of silent prayer together before the special ballots are distributed and the voting begins.
The ballots are a relative large piece of heavy paper, about half the size of a standard sheet. It folds in such a way that the name of the person voted for can be read without seeing the signature of the delegate, which must be on the ballot, as well. A very large dark wooden box is used and we will all process to the center of the aulato deposit our votes personally into the ballot box.
Two members will take oaths then verify the number of the ballots before the Secretary of the Congregation Fr. Orlando Torres, S.J., elected late last week, reads the name aloud. His two assistant secretaries keep track of the count. No electronic gear can be brought into the aula, not even the famous tablets. For this voting session, all support staff, including translators and our intrepid I.T. savior Fr. Ed Fassett, S.J., are excluded. We are allowed to bring with us only a list of the eligible delegates (three delegates attend only the ad negociamsessions) and a pen. We can bring water, but no food. A nearby restroom has been sectioned off for the delegates use only. It has all the drama of a conclave, if not the fancy clothes.
The magic number is 107. That is one more than half the delegates present in the Congregation. Once that number is reached by any delegate, an envoy is sent to inform Pope Francis while we sit and wait. When word comes that Francis has been informed, the curia communications team will send out the identity of the new Superior General far and wide. The new General will make a Profession of Faith before the delegates, then receive their individual congratulations, then will follow the curia staff. Finally, we will all go to the Rodriguez main chapel in the curia building to sing the Te Deum in thanksgiving.
On Saturday, the new General will preside and preach at a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Gesu Church at 10:30 a.m.
October 10, 2016 - Day Nine
Today begins the murmuratio, so this will be my last entry until after the election of our new Superior General on Friday. These days are dedicated solely to the one-on-one questioning of each other about Jesuits who might be able to serve as the next Superior General. In the murmuratio, we may answer questions posed to us but not propose or dissuade anyone from a particular candidate. During these days, we are not to bring any electronic devices into the curia. As one delegate described, “These are like days of retreat for the Congregation, conversation in dyads and prayer.” My early concerns about this process and the election have fallen away. While I’m not confident that I alone would choose the right man, I have full confidence that this group of 215 Jesuits, praying, talking, and listening together, will be led by the Holy Spirit to the choice we should make.
Friday morning we will concelebrate Mass in the church across the street from the curia then begin voting sometime around 9 a.m. I fully expect we will have a new Superior General before noon. Then, on Saturday, we well concelebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving in the Gesu Church.
In the aula, I sit between a Jesuit from India and a Jesuit from Lithuania. The Indian Jesuit is teaching me greeting in Hindi. So far, I’ve mastered, “How are you?” and “I’m well, thank you.” My adventure on our day off was getting a haircut. My intention of “a little off the sides” somehow got interpreted as “do whatever you want.” Happily, it will grow out before I return home.
We feel the support of all your prayer in the aula. Please continue to pray for us.
(Editor’s Note: Please check out this short video of Oregon Provincial Father Scott Santarosa, SJ, talking about the small group exercises the assembled Jesuits are doing before they enter the murmuratio.)
The congregation just completed three days of small-group discussion by language groups. Fathers Scott Santarosa, Mark Ravizza (Oregon and California delegates, respectively), and I spent most of our time in Spanish-speaking groups. English was the largest language group by far, with most Asian and African delegates speaking English besides their local languages. There were also groups in French and Italian. These were tiring days, with prayer in the aula beginning the day, then off to two morning groups, trekking back to our residences for pranzo, then back to the curia for the afternoon groups and Mass in one of three languages. We are putting in a fair amount of walking, more than seven miles daily while living at the Bellarmino. Fathers Tom Lamanna and Chi Ngo (also delegates from California and Oregon, respectively) have farther to walk from the Gregorian. Sleep comes easily to all at the end of the day.
Some changes have been made to our calendar. The congregation decided today to slow its pace toward the mumuratio and the election by taking more days for conversation and giving itself a day off on Sunday. We expect to begin murmuratio Monday and hold the election for Fr. General on Friday, October 14. Tomorrow, Friday, begins with a special Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. We will gather at the Jesuit curia, vest for Mass, then process to St. Peter’s. All this is dependent on the weather. It poured rain today mid-day, soaking most of us on our way to pranzo.
The support staff here is full of American Jesuits. Father Ed Fassett, SJ, has been our IT savior in the aula. Whenever someone’s tablet doesn’t function, he rushes over to put it in order or explain again to the delegate which buttons to push. He also places lots of materials on the overhead screens—there are three in the aula—for the Jim Gummer, the Vicar for Fr. General and directing the action in the aula. Renowned photographer Fr. Don Doll, SJ, is taking still photos everywhere and has now turned his attention to photo portraits of the delegates (A decent photo is needed for whomever is elected.). Fr. Eddie Siebert, SJ, videos all that he can, though old guys walking into the auditorium and walking out of the auditorium doesn’t make for great video. And, Fr. Robert Ballecer, SJ, made an appearance in the wings of the aula today. He is helping with social media. With the exception of Fr. Fassett, the interpreters and the recorders, all the support staff leaves the aula before the sessions begin.
October 3, 2016 - Day Two
For the vote on accepting Fr. General Adolfo Nicolás’s resignation, paper ballots must be used. It was a good experience to better appreciate the electronic voting through the tablets. It takes a long time for 215 men to individually deposit their ballots in the large wooden ballot box, overseen by the two examiners, and then to watch as first the ballots are counted to ensure everyone voted and just once, and then for the actual counting of the votes. Fr. Nicolas was warm, engaging and brief in his remarks. Three times the delegates rose to applaud this most beloved man.
We learned today that the murmuratio begins Friday, which means the vote for the next Superior General will be on Tuesday, October 11. This afternoon, we began meeting in smaller language groups to introduce ourselves and to begin conversations about the state of the Society of Jesus, the Church, and the World to see what the Holy Spirit might be asking of us. These smaller groups also us to know each other better before the congregation turns its attention specifically to selecting the new Superior General. At the conclusion of the work day, the delegates celebrate Mass together in language groups—French, Spanish, Italian, and English. Since most of us are living in a community away from the curia and its “aula” or congregation hall, each day includes six to eight miles of hiking through the streets and alleys of old Rome.
October 2, 2016 - Day One
The Congregation opened today with a Mass at the Gesu Church, all the delegates present, the priests concelebrating, and the brother delegates offering petitions. Half this enormous church was filled with vested concelebrants, dressed in matching albs and stoles thanks to the generosity of the curia. Scholastics from the Gesu filled in as acolytes. The Master General of the Dominicans presided and gave the homily. Multiple languages filled the church from Hindi to Gaelic. At the end of Mass, Fr. Nicolás personally thanked the Master General and joked about it being appropriate for the “Dominican General” to preach because they are the Order of Preachers. He responded, “I am no General,” said Fr. Nicolás. At communion Fr. Nicolás almost stumbled at the altar and several concelebrants rushed to catch him, but he regained his balance. He is clearly frail, but in great spirits, smiling and ready to laugh at any moment. The Master General urged the congregation to ask for an increase of faith so to “…dare the audacity of the ‘improbable’ and the evangelical willingness to do it with the humility of those who know that, in this service where the human engages all his energy, ‘everything depends on God.’” The Gesu Church seemed especially beautiful and the small choir celestial in its simple beauty. Afterwards 10 of us U.S. delegates went out for pasta and had a great two hours of telling stories full of laughter. Spirits are high. The business of the congregation begins tomorrow, Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. The delegates housed away from the curia have 20- to 45-minute hikes to walk in from their temporary communities. Since we will all need to return to those communities for Pranzo, the main meal at mid-day, some will walk six miles or more each day to attend the morning and afternoon sessions.
Fr. Weiler (right) with Oregon Provincial Fr. Scott Santarosa, SJ, just before the opening Mass.
Delegates Vesting Before Mass
Fr. Chi Ngo, SJ, another California Province delegate, vesting before Mass.
October 1, 2016 - Pre-Congregation Orientation
I write on the cusp of General Congregation 36. Tomorrow, Sunday, we begin with a concelebrated Mass in the Gesu Church at 5 p.m. All the delegates and most of the Jesuits in Rome will attend. The Master General of the Dominicans will preside and preach. Today we attended orientations in either English or Spanish in the Aula room, newly remodeled. It was in an oval shape in past congregations and has now been reshaped into more of a circle. The delegates seem closer to each other. The other big change is the use of electronic tablets to channel the simultaneous translation into French, English or Spanish. The tablet also takes roll (we need to sign in when we arrive at the Aula), presents the drafts of the documents, allows for interventions, and records votes (except the vote for Superior General, which is still done on paper).
Delegates are housed among 13 Jesuit communities in Rome. The largest groups are at the Curia (91), the Bellarmino (50), the Gregorian University (38) and the Canisio (24). So far we have mostly interacted during meals at our respective communities and in small groups during the orientation sessions today. The number of men, their names and the languages are overwhelming. I am still puzzled how we will come to know each other well enough to find the new Superior General.
The Province is well represented here. Besides the five delegates (six counting Fr. Tom Smolich of JRS), Fr. Eddie Siebert is filming the congregation, Fr. Ed Fassett led us through the orientation sessions, and Fr. Robert Ballecer will assist in promulgating the events through social media. Besides those directly involved in the congregation, Frs. Tony Sholander, Tom Carroll, Steve Pisano and our four students are around to greet and give us insider information about managing Rome.