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A Jesuit Reflects on the Society of Jesus’ 71st Congregation of Procurators

By Victor Cancino, SJ

In May 2023, Jesuit Superior General Father Arturo Sosa, SJ, convened the 71st Congregation of Procurators (CP71) in Loyola, Spain. In its purest form, the Congregation acts as a barometer to capture the general health of the Society of Jesus globally. It has two main tasks: to vote on whether it is necessary to convene a “General Congregation” to elect a new Superior General and to create decrees that provide direction for the present mission.

A selfie with my fellow procurators. I am in the foreground.

The fact that CP71 took place in the old Basque country of our founder’s birthplace, and not in Rome near the Vatican, held symbolic value. After his studies in Paris, St. Ignatius returned to his home in Loyola, Spain, to confront his past life and test the spirits. Had he actually become a changed man—from soldier-politician to poor and humble follower of Christ? For those of us “procurators” elected to represent each Jesuit province around the world, CP71 had a similar symbolic value.

Is the Society of Jesus open to ongoing conversion? This was the test and discernment we were not expecting to entertain, yet this became a focal point of our gathering. Fr. General designed our meeting to begin with an eight-day silent retreat, which was familiar ground for Jesuits who typically make a similar retreat annually. Our retreats are always a deeply personal time, intended for the Jesuit to see where life has taken him and to hear what God wishes to say.

Santuario de Loyola in Loyola, Spain, where our meeting was held

Confusion, though, began to surface at the start of the silent retreat for CP71. Is this a time of personal prayer for myself? Or, rather, is it meant to address Fr. General’s desire to provide direction for the Society of Jesus around the world?

Here was the first major shift in the Congregation as we all moved from a “prayer for me” to a “prayer for us” to help Fr. General discern the Society’s present state and mission. As a group, we began to have a sense of the heaviness Fr. Sosa must carry due to the nature of his office. It felt good to help him bear this weight through discernment in common.

Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus

Within our spiritual conversations and our individual and communal reflections, a key theme emerged early on: “Jesus, poor and humble.” If we talked about areas of crisis, such as victims of sexual abuse or struggling Jesuits, it was through the lens of Jesus, poor and humble. If we talked about exciting new ventures like Jesuit communities in Nepal or Vietnam, it was filtered through Jesus, poor and humble. In contemplating the wounded body of Christ within the Church, the world and especially among Jesuits, the phrase had the effect of a healing balm for the Congregation.

Many of us were challenged by this simple phrase and meditation. Perhaps this was due to a simple honest assessment: In the rush of enterprise, we can easily forget to reach out to Jesus, poor and humble, within our Jesuit mission.

Alongside this phrase was another meditation adapted from the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, SJ, who once wrote, “The Christians of tomorrow will be mystics or nothing at all.” This phrase appeared at least three times, once during the retreat within small group discernment in common and twice during Masses held at the end of the day following plenary sessions. I understood these refrains as a call to greater depth in our spirituality and within our role as religious leaders. We changed Rahner’s maxim for our own purposes: “The Jesuits of tomorrow will be mystics or nothing at all.”

An overhead view of the beautiful basilica where the opening Mass was held

In the end, we voted not to call a General Congregation, and we did not come up with a concrete, strategic action plan. And there was a sense of freedom and joy in this result. For three weeks in May, our shared ground as procurators shifted toward discernment in common—a practice that required tremendous focus anchored in prayer, listening and speaking only when there was something worth saying. It was three weeks of contemplative listening and intentional speaking.

I left Loyola with a renewed sense of the Society of Jesus in the first quarter of the 21st century. CP71 was something to experience, much like the Synod which recently took place, where one is changed if there is enough faith and trust that the Spirit is indeed speaking. The catch, however, is that when the Spirit speaks to you, she does it through another person—this is what it means to discern in common. This gift is learning to listen again—this is conversion.

Father Victor Cancino, SJ, serves at St. Ignatius Mission in St. Ignatius, Montana, on the Flathead Indian Reservation and at St. Francis Xavier Church in Missoula, Montana. In June of 2022, he was elected to serve as the Jesuits West Province’s procurator to the 71st Congregation of Procurators.

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