Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., a former visiting researcher at Georgetown’s Center for Latin American Studies, was elected the 31st superior general of the Society of Jesus and the first non-European superior general in an Oct. 14 vote with the Jesuits’ main governing body in Rome.
Sosa worked at Georgetown between March and July of 2004, during which time he organized seminars and conferences, focusing on Latin American politics. As superior general, he will be responsible for leading the Jesuits, one of the largest and oldest orders of the Catholic Church, which counts Pope Francis among its 16,000 members.
In addition to his previous work at Georgetown, Sosa, who was inducted into the Society of Jesus in 1966 and holds a doctorate in political science from the Central University of Venezuela, serves as a founding board member at the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas and a rector of the Catholic University of Táchira. He also acted as provincial superior of the Society of Jesus in Venezuela from 1996 to 2004.
A vote by 212 Jesuit representatives at the Roman General Congregation elected Venezuelan native Sosa following the resignation of Adolfo Nicolás last week.
Georgetown Center for Latin American Studies Director Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., said he was pleased with the results of the election and that Sosa would bring a level of social awareness and forward thinking to his role, similar to what Pope Francis has done.
“It’s a tremendously exciting time for us as Jesuits because having a new general is always exciting,” Carnes said. “You have someone new who’s going to bring new energy, but in this particular case, he brings a vision that is very similar to that of Pope Francis.”
According to the General Congregation’s website, 27 percent, the majority of representatives, still come from Europe; however, 21 percent, the second largest group, come from South Asia. The smallest percentage of the delegation is from Africa at 10 percent.
Carnes noted the Jesuits, originally a European order, have greatly expanded their ranks in non-European countries.
“The idea that leadership can be in the hands of any Jesuit really speaks to the way that we’re a global organization and the kind of trust we have in one another,” Carnes said. “We’re looking for the best candidate.”
Fr. Sean Michaelson, S.J., the executive secretary and treasurer of the Jesuit Conference, an organization representing Jesuits in Canada and the United States, said the General Congregation would advise on how best to proceed with his platform based on reconciliation and bringing people together.
“The General Congregation is the highest governing body in the society,” Michaelson said. “So, when the General Congregation is in place, it can make a lot of decisions about the future of the society and what should be emphasized and what should be focused on.”
Center for Latin American Studies Academic Director Angelo Rivero-Santos worked with Sosa while he taught at Georgetown in 2004 and spoke highly of Sosa’s ability to promote and moderate reasonable discussion.
“We have firsthand experience with him,” Santos said. “He has been doing this for years and I think a voice of reason that is respected and able to bring some rationality to the political discourse is essential.”
Santos recalled that when Georgetown wanted to host a conference in 2004 on the state of Venezuelan politics two years after a failed coup attempt against Hugo Chavez, Sosa convinced many participants to speak despite having their political opponents in the same room.
“We organized a conference to speak about what was going on in Venezuela at the time, and he played a crucial role,” Santos said. “We faced some difficult times in getting some of our guests to accept being with each other.”
Santos said although Sosa was qualified for his new position due to all of his experience as part of the Catholic Church and Society of Jesus, Sosa would be successful mostly because of his character.
“I think it’s important to note that besides being a great academic, being a Jesuit, having all the moral authority, people should know he’s a great man, he’s a good man,” Santos said. “He’s jovial and he connects with people beyond his faith.”
Carnes said he has extended Sosa an open invitation to return to Georgetown.
“I still have a couple emails from him,” Carnes said. “I actually sent an email to him telling him that if he ever wants to come back, we’d be happy to have him come and give a talk or be part of the center again.”