The opening of the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus is just over two months away. Here's a quick outline of what to expect.
What is a General Congregation?
The General Congregation is the highest authority in the Society of Jesus. A congregation is called on the death or resignation of the Father-General, to choose his successor. It may be called at other times if circumstances warrant. This will be the 35th General Congregation.
What else will be discussed at the General Congregation?
As well as selecting a new Father-General, the delegates will be debating a number of key issues pertaining to the future direction of the Society. In recent weeks, a number of preparatory documents have been circulated to Jesuit communities for reflection and discussion ahead of the Congregation. The materials deal with these topics: Jesuit Identity, Our Mission, Apostolic Obedience, Concern for the Environment, Community Life, the Promotion of Vocations, Collaboration with the Laity and Others, Government of the Society.
Where have General Congregations convened?
Since the first GC, which elected Diego Laínez to succeed Ignatius, up until the Suppression of the Society in 1773, all nineteen GCs were convened at the Roman house near the present Gesù Church in Rome. GC19 (1758) elected Lorenzo Ricci who died imprisoned in Castel Sant Angelo. After the restoration of the Society (1814), GC20 took place in 1820, GC21 (1829), GC22 (1853) convened at the Gesù house. In 1870 the General Curia had to move to the city of Fiesole. GC24 (1892) was convened at Loyola, Azpeitia, Spain. In 1895 the General Curia returned to Rome after two exiles in Switzerland. GC28 (1938) was the first to convene at Borgo S. Spirito. GCs since have convened at Borgo S. Spirito. GC31 (1965) GC32 (1975) GC33 (1983) GC34 (1995) and GC35(2008).
How long will the next General Congregation last?
Father General calls the GC and decides the date of its beginning. The end of its deliberations is decided by the Congregation itself. GC6 in 1608 under Claudio Acquaviva was the shortest-36 days. GC8 in 1646 under Vincenzo Carafa was the longest-145 days. Five Congregations were in session for less than 50 days: GC6 (1608), GC19 (1758) which elected Father General Lorenzo Ricci, GC21 (1829) which elected Jan Roothaan, GC25 (1906) which elected Franz Wernz and GC26 (1915) which elected Wlodimir Ledochowski.
There were ten GCs held in the 20th century. GC25 (1906) which elected Wernz took 48 days while GC31 (1965) which elected Father General Pedro Arrupe took 141 days in two sessions. GC33 (1983) which elected Peter-Hans Kolvenbach lasted 54 days. GC34 (1995) lasted 76 days. Congregations called to elect a Father General tend to be shorter than the ones which deal with issues related to the community life or apostolic work.
How many Jesuits will take part?
Here is a sample of the participation at previous General Congregations:
G.C. 1 (1558) Number of Jesuits: 1,000. Members of the Congregation: 20.
G.C. 2 (1565) Jesuits: 3,500. Members: 39.
G.C. 27 (1923) Jesuits: 18,304. Members: 102 (the first over 100)
G.C. 31 (1965) Jesuits: 36,000. Members: 226 (the first over 200)
G.C. 32 (1974) Jesuits: 28,500. Members: 236
G.C. 33 (1983) Jesuits: 25,952. Members: 220
G.C. 34 (1995) Jesuits: 22,869. Members: 223
G.C. 35 (2008) Jesuits: 19,566 Members: 219