For those of us attending our first General Congregation an important step was learning and appreciating the way of murmuratio. We wanted to know how to do it and do it well.
I brought with me an understanding of murmuring, mostly memories from childhood and school, where murmuring avoided open and plain speaking and could be seen as rude or subversive. What makes our Jesuit form of murmuratio particular to our ways of proceeding? We had practised murmuratio briefly at our Asia Pacific Conference gathering in 2015, planned in preparation for GC 36. This time we knew it would claim our attention over a much longer period of time and with a greater consequence.
On the morning of the second week we entered into murmuratio. Some of those who had been at GC 35 provided some general advice and encouragement. We needed to consider the questions we might ask another. For example: what were other Jesuits looking for in a new Fr General? What is being asked of him at this time of our history? What did he need to be good at, experienced in and conversant with? How has he managed governance, leadership and spiritual conversation? Does he love the Society, the poor and had experience of other cultures and religions? What are his strengths and weaknesses? There was room to frame many questions.
Murmuratio came within the context of quiet, space and prayer. As a group we gathered each morning in the Aula to begin with prayer and offer the fruit of our day and discernment to God. Then we broke up into pairs. Whom we spoke to, how long we spoke and how much time we took to reflect and pray was left up to us. We could ask someone to join us or they could ask us. A light sandwich lunch was provided in the Curia for all. The day was ours. We could plan and meet as many as we wished. We could stop, reflect and pray. We concluded the day with benediction and eucharist.
Imagine a group of two hundred and fifteen men in pairs, spread over the Aula, Curia and Canisio, all in murmuratio. The process generated this gentle sound of murmuring, many private conversations, no rushing, no mobile phones and no bells.
We were encouraged to ask questions and not to offer anything without first being asked. There were no posters put up. No debates, lobbying or advertising. No flyers put under our doors during the night. No handouts. Brief CVs were available on everyone present at the Congregation. We had the list of our own questions.
We are now into our fourth day and will finish tomorrow.
We have moved as a group knowing that this process has guided similar Jesuit decisions in the past and trust it will guide us again. This conviction is exciting, humbling and challenging. We rise and fall in our thoughts and discernments. We pray for clarity and live with complexity and, sometimes, confusion. Like those early Companions of Ignatius, ‘weak as we are and from different places and cultures’ we seek to allow the Spirit to call one from amongst us to lead us.