In May, Jesuits from all the regions where the Society of Jesus works are gathering at the Sanctuary of Loyola in Spain for the 71st Congregation of Procurators. Announced in January 2021, this congregation is an outstanding example of collaboration and communication between Jesuits and their partners in mission, in keeping with Pope Francis’s call for a bottom-up approach to listening and discernment in the Church.
Each province, region and mission has engaged in a process of discernment and prayer to create a report on the “state of the Society” in their respective regions while also electing a single delegate to represent them at the Congregation of Procurators. The delegate for our province is Fr. John Meehan, SJ, who has consulted with the various members of the apostolic body of the Jesuits of Canada, lay and religious, across the various regions and sectors.
This year, Father General has asked the delegates to report on how the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs)—given to the Society of Jesus by Pope Francis in 2019—have transformed life and ministry throughout the global Society. The UAPs are as follows:
- To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment
- To walk with the poor and the marginalized of our world
- To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future
- To work with others to safeguard our Common Home
Father Gilles Mongeau, SJ, explains here the role of the Congregation of Procurators and how it sheds light on certain mechanisms that have been put in place within the province.
« A procurator is elected by the province rather than appointed by its provincial, and is charged with casting a fresh eye on the province as a whole, from below upwards, with the benefit of input from Jesuits and partners in mission. […] For us as a province, we can see here a confirmation of some of the mechanisms we have put in place over the last few years. »
Why the need for the Congregation of Procurators?
Fr General is kept well informed of the life of each province through multiple mechanisms of ordinary governance: after each regional or local visitation, the provincial writes a report to the general about the life and mission of the local Jesuit community and the apostolic works there; the provincial also writes a yearly report on the state of the province, which is supplemented by the annual letter of the province consultors. In addition to this, he catches a glimpse of the province “on the ground” when he receives the informations for approving or appointing superiors, for approving Jesuits for final vows, and so on. But all this information is channelled mainly through the provincial and his consultors.
It is helpful to have another look, from a different perspective. A procurator is elected by the province rather than appointed by its provincial, and is charged with casting a fresh eye on the province as a whole, from below upwards, with the benefit of input from Jesuits and partners in mission. Think of it as a kind of “discernment audit.”
In addition, the gathering of all procurators together to review and pray over the reports received from everywhere in the Society provides Fr General with an organ of communal discernment that is much broader and deeper than his usual council. There is an opportunity here to get a feel for the pulse of the Society’s life and mission from below upwards, and to uncover questions or themes that ought to be addressed by the ordinary governance of the Society.
For us as a province, we can see here a confirmation of some of the mechanisms we have put in place over the last few years, like the use of the meeting of superiors and directors of works as an instrument of apostolic planning alongside the ordinary process of visitations by the provincial, and the use of communal apostolic discernment from below upwards.
Many might see similarities between this process in the Society and synodal meetings taking place in the Church. Is this a way for the Jesuits to embody the Pope’s call to listening and synodality?
There is indeed a great similarity. Speaking in terms of history, we can’t say that this process is a conscious attempt to embody Francis’ call to greater synodality, since the Jesuits have has Congregations of Procurators since 1565. They have been used in different ways by different general superiors, but their two fundamental purposes – to advise Fr General on the need for a General Congregation, and to discern the state of the Society’s life and mission – have been a consistent part of their work. Since Fr Arrupe’s generalate, the role of the Procurator’s Congregation as a discerning body addressing specific themes or questions has increased. In this sense, we can see a convergence between the mechanism of the Congregation of Procurators, with its “from below upwards” movement, and the renewed emphasis on synodality in the life of the Church championed by Pope Francis.
Since Fr Arrupe’s generalate, the role of the Procurator’s Congregation as a discerning body addressing specific themes or questions has increased.
We need to remember, of course, that synodal forms of government have continued uninterrupted in the Eastern churches, including those in communion with Rome, as well as in the life of the Anglican communion; and of course, religious communities have always used various forms of communal government throughout their history. Pope Francis’ push for synodality is not so much a new thing as it is a rediscovered element in the life of the Roman Catholic Church. We could perhaps conjecture that his exposure to the various forms of communal government in the Society of Jesus, including the congregation of procurators, might have predisposed him to a synodal approach.
How is this Congregation of Procurators different from prior ones?
Beginning with the last Procurator’s Congregation, called by Father Kolvenbach, two new elements stand out: the holding of the congregation itself at a location outside of Rome, and the choice to have a common retreat before the congregation. The 70th Congregation of Procurators was held in Nairobi and was also preceded by a common retreat. This one is being held in Loyola, birthplace of Ignatius and the place of his fundamental conversion experience. This location is very much in tune with Fr General’s particular question for this congregation, the ongoing conversion of the Society of Jesus through the appropriation and enfleshing of the Universal Apostolic Preferences given to the society by the Pope.