Fr. Arturo Sosa completed an 11-day visit to Jesuit communities in Canada. Photo by Michael Swan

Head of world's Jesuits thinks Pope will apologize to Canada's Indigenous

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  • June 7, 2018

Though it all hinges on an invitation from Canada’s bishops, the superior general of the world’s 17,000 Jesuits — including Pope Francis — is certain the Pope will issue an apology on Canadian soil for Catholic involvement in Canada’s residential school system.

“I am sure that Pope Francis is willing to do it,” Fr. Arturo Sosa told The Catholic Register as he wrapped up an 11-day visit to Canada on May 30. “I’m not the Pope. I’m not the bishops’ conference of Canada. But I’m sure that the moment will arrive.”

Sosa’s certainty isn’t based on his knowledge of politics (he was once professor of political science at the Catholic University of Táchira in Venezuela) or special insight into the mindset of Canadian bishops. It’s theological.

Reconciliation has become the central and motivating theological idea in the life of every Jesuit. Reconciliation is a basic truth of Catholic faith, central to Christ’s salvation of the world. Sosa is sure the Jesuit Pope will not duck, weave or hide when it comes to any genuine opportunity for reconciliation.

“Pope Francis has been very courageous in apologizing,” Sosa said. “The last experience was about this situation in Chile (with victims of clergy sex abuse). He did that very correctly in apologizing.”

When it comes to the world’s Indigenous people, reconciliation is a priority for the Church and the Pope, according to Sosa.

“Pope Francis, when he convoked the synod (on the Amazon) next year, he was thinking of Indigenous people. He said that very clearly in Peru,” Sosa said. “To reach the connection with First Nations in Canada is a priority — a priority that links the past with the future.”

At the time of Sosa’s election in 2016 to head up the world’s largest male religious order, the Jesuits recast their understanding of the Church and themselves under the theological banner of reconciliation. They summed up their 36th general congregation as a “call to share God’s work of reconciliation in our broken world.”

“They (215 delegates to the 2016 global gathering of Jesuits) all arrived at the same word,” said Sosa. “They said, we live in a broken world. We feel that we are called to contribute to the reconciliation in different contexts.”

Radical reconciliation has emerged as the leading edge of academic theology over the past 20 years, since Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu took charge of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. The movement among theologians takes us back to basics, said King’s University College theologian Mark Yenson.

“It’s implicit when we talk about salvation and what Jesus did in His ministry. That’s radical reconciliation with the God of Israel, among people,” said Yenson. “It becomes a question also of how we practice that reconciliation politically, in the ways we operate in society, in business, in terms of welcoming migrants, obviously in dealing with First Nations people. It is obvious, right?”

The idea that over 16,000 Jesuits around the world are all thinking deeply about reconciliation is no surprise, “but it challenges me,” Yenson said.

“There are all these ways in which I recognize myself as unreconciled. There’s a real personal challenge. I think that’s the challenge that Pope Francis is posing as well. In what ways do we remain unreconciled?”

It’s not academic theology but reality that drives Sosa to think in terms of reconciliation. Struggling in his fourth language, Sosa resorts to the Spanish word “gritando,” which another Jesuit translates for him as “shout.”

“We have to hear that shout of the people. That is the shout of God,” Sosa said. “Reconciliation among human beings. Reconciliation with the environment, with creation, with our common house — and reconciliation with God. We cannot be reconciled with God without the other two. We cannot be reconciled among us if we are not reconciled with God.”

Sosa arrived in Canada with some idea of how Canadian Jesuits are pursuing reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians. He had seen a video summarizing last summer’s canoe pilgrimage from the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont., to Montreal. The 850-kilometre pilgrimage involved young Jesuits and dozens of Native Canadians paddling together over 26 days. But it was a Pentecost Sunday Mass at the Martyrs’ Shrine, in front of a typically Canadian multicultural congregation, that convinced Sosa the Canadians are on board the reconciliation train.

“That tells me, ‘OK, Jesuits are doing this. Jesuits are connected with their tradition, with their roots, with (St. Jean de) Brebeuf, (St. Garbrial) Lalement and others — with (St. Isaac) Jogues,’ ” he said. “This excellent material of different cultures, this pluralism, we can say we have here in Canada an intercultural society, where cultures can enrich each other.”

Sosa is unconcerned with the falling numbers of Jesuits, which hit a high of over 28,000 40 years ago.

“We do the best we can do with who we are. We are not looking for numbers. We are looking for the quality of the person who joins this way of life,” he said.

For the first time, a solid majority of delegates to the 2016 general congregation were from the poorer countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The dominance of Europeans and North Americans in the order is beginning to grey out. 

“The Society of Jesus is a religious congregation, no? Of religious life?” he asks. “Together we try to do the mission we have, in each situation. The Society of Jesus is just founded to serve the vision of the Church. Many or few, here or there, young or elderly, we do what we can.”

Comments (1)

  1. TJ Johnson

The sooner the Church gets rid of this Marxist reprobate heretic antipope Bergoglio the better

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