Mass celebration during GC35 in 2008
Mass celebrated during GC35 in 2008 – a representation of Jesuits worldwide

GC36 – A Disconcerting Diversity

As the 36th General Congregation of the Jesuits gets under way in Rome today, Sunday 2nd October, we will try to reflect on what is happening from our Ignatian perspective. It will be a complement to the abundant information that is available on other sites, especially which some of you might choose to follow.

I had the privilege to take part in the previous General Congregation, held in early 2008, and one of the most striking aspects of the experience was without any doubt the astonishing diversity of the group that assembled. Fr Kolvenbach, the then Jesuit Superior General, used to call it a ‘disconcerting’ diversity.

This time the Congregation will bring together 215 Jesuits from the 66 Jesuit provinces and regions worldwide. In a very real way, the whole world will be present in that one room.  Most of these men would not have never met before, they come from totally different contexts and have been trained in different environments; yet, they still manage to find enough common ground that enables them to communicate at a deep level and come to clear and shared choices.

The founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was utterly convinced that diversity brings strength, and his first group of companions was made up of men from many different European nations, some of them at war at that time.  At the time of his death there were Jesuits in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, and through the intervening centuries Jesuits always strove to maintain this universal vision, looking at this diversity as what made them flexible and strong.

This is certainly not a Jesuit prerogative, for many such meetings are taking place all the time. It is the prerogative of the Spirit of God to bring people together and enable them to focus more on what is common than on the differences that divide them.

On Pentecost, all those assembled in Jerusalem could understand what the Apostles were saying: the damage done by the Tower of Babel, when communication became impossible, was now overcome by the outpouring of the Spirit of God.

Our world is more aware than ever of its differences, and is drawing back in fear. Building high walls to keep others out seems more and more attractive to those in power and to those who elect them. Others resort to violence in the vain hope that they could eliminate all those who are different, whom they see only as a threat.  Unfortunately, more people are building thicker walls around their hearts to keep others out.

Yet, the Spirit of God still hovers over the chaos, enabling us to build bridges rather than walls. Jesus shed his blood to make of us one people, empowering us to believe that our diversity, while certainly an obstacle to communication, is also a source of great richness.

May we learn to believe in the presence of God’s Spirit in our world as we struggle to deal with diversity and take every opportunity to forge new and stronger links.

You may find this song, ‘One Bread, One Body’ by John Michael Talbot helpful in your reflection on the above text.