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New Jesuit General's feeling for the political periphery

  • 07 November 2016


Ordinarily I wouldn't dare to say that political leaders have anything to learn from Jesuits. People in public life can read their craft far better than outsiders.

But these are the kind of extraordinary times of anxiety and flux that led ancient rulers to consult oracles, read tea leaves and look carefully at the flight of birds. People fret because their future and their pockets rise and fall on the tide of of would-be presidents.

Candidates for office throughout the world quickly see their popularity fall to 20 per cent or so as they try to catch the popular wind and throw asylum seekers and other expendable people overboard. Commentators neglect the larger public good to fix on politics as politics.

In this sour slurry of discontent and puzzlement the Jesuit election as Superior General of a Venezuelan political scientist may provide material for broader reflection.

Arturo Sosa was born and spent most of his life working in Venezuela in one of the few democratic gaps between military and oligarchic rule. He was brought up in a Catholic Church that, like the people, had been crushed by authoritarian regimes. He knew the value and the costs of democracy.

He became a Jesuit in the late 1960s, a time of ferment in the Catholic Church, and was able to combine his studies in a secular university with experience of and reflection on the life of the poor in a Jesuit social institute. He was able to explore what mattered in his faith, his personal life and in Venezuelan society.

After he was ordained as a priest he worked for many years in a pastoral institute and university in a regional city. He was engaged in helping educate the poor and in forming Catholic leaders and communities with a strong social conscience. He developed the habit of reflecting on policies from the point of view of those affected by them.

These gifts and skills were important when he was made the Superior of the Venezuelan Jesuits. He deplored the situation in Venezuela, a country rich in oil but where the wealth had gone disproportionately to the few and which was marked by corruption. Popular disaffection with the government led to the election of Hugo Chavez, a former military officer. 


"Sosa's path to leadership may be of wider interest, not because he would be a good head of state, but because of the large threads that run through his life. They