Election day – finally! The overcast weather did not lessen the our enthusiasm. Mass was scheduled for 7:30 at the Church of the Holy Spirit, across the street from our Curia. By the time I arrived at 7:10, however, many Jesuits had already taken their places, quietly praying about the events ahead. No one took this lightly.
The Mass of the Holy Spirit, like the opening liturgy at the Gesù almost two weeks ago, was a rich celebration, with one focus, asking to receive the God’s wisdom, to guide our choice. In his homily, Fr. Jim Grummer, the Vicar General, spoke of the work of the Spirit moving us from fear to joy. How appropriate a message, not only as we began our day, but also as a preview of what would come!
We trooped out of the church, all in alb and stole, crossing the street with the Italian Army holding back traffic – a nice touch! The process began at 9. First, again we sang the ‘Veni, Creator Spiritus’, asking the Spirit’s help. Fr. Lisbert d’Souza then exhorted us to trust deeply in God’s work in our midst, reminding us too of Pope Francis’ challenge to us to be true to our heritage.
Then we stopped. Imagine 212 Jesuits in the Aula all falling silent in prayer for 40 minutes. Silence can be ‘heavy’, hard to bear. My experience was different; the silence was ‘rich’, a palpable sense of shared prayer, of presence to one another and to God. Even having experienced this once before, that stillness struck me; it signaled the importance of the moment and yet put us at peace.
Then to the vote. Each of us wrote the name of a man on the ballot, signing our name too, though in a way that kept the vote secret. Then, after a promise to God to vote as we believed the Spirit had moved us, we approached the ballot box silently, one by one. Imagine watching each of these great men, so many of whom could serve as General, approach and drop in his ballot. For me, only ‘awe’ could describe what I witnessed.
The votes were counted to ensure there were 212, and then the names read out, one by one. Many kept tally at their places. When Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal reached the magic number of 107, you could see smiles cross people’s faces. The joy Fr. Grummer had pointed out as the Spirit’s gift spread through the room. As the official tally was read, prolonged applause broke out, and those near Fr. Sosa reached to shake his hand in congratulations.
We followed then the prescribed pattern but it was no mere formality. Fr. Sosa came to the well of the Aula to make a formal profession of faith; we had our General. On the way there, he went first to Fr. Nicolàs, our previous General to greet him and exchange a few words; that move signaled to us continuity, but more than that, a deep respect of both men for each other. About a week ago, one delegate urged us not to delay an election too long for we were ‘orphans’, without a Father. That can sound pious or sentimental; it was nothing of the sort. This transition that we have lived over the last two weeks reveals the deep personal the link to Father General; St. Ignatius said that through him graces flow from God to us all. We are orphans no more!
Then one by one we proceeded to greet our new General, exchanging a hug, perhaps a few words. Fr. Nicolàs saluted him as he approached, to laughter and applause. People were more than happy; rather we knew joy, that sense of being at home with God in a new and dramatic way. Applause broke out repeatedly, as when Fr. Sosa greeted the Provincial and delegate from Venezuela.
Then to the Borgia Chapel on the ground floor for a service of thanksgiving. Voices rang out loud and clear in celebration. A new chapter in our history has begun, new and yet revealing the vitality of our tradition back to the first Father General. Unlike elections elsewhere, the memory of who the other candidates were and how many votes each got became irrelevant, something to forget. We gather again as one family, with one Father chosen through God’s Spirit. Would that this spirit marked all elections in our world….