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CG36 sj: The experience of the murmuratio

October 10, 2016

Perhaps you have already read this in one or other of the articles describing the stages of a General Congregation: an element peculiar to the “way of acting” of Jesuits in the election of their general superior is that of the murmuratio.
In the Constitutions St. Ignatius insisted forcefully that the election of the General take place in an atmosphere of prayer and discernment, an atmosphere that gives pride of place to the Holy Spirit. In this setting there is no place for “parties” among the “brethren”, not even parties for possible candidates. As a matter of fact, any Jesuit in the world can be elected General, granted that usually the one elected has had the experience of having been chosen by his Jesuit province and who is, then, a member of the Congregation.
If St. Ignatius has privileged spiritual means for the election he has not forgotten the importance of the human intelligence. The delegates must be able to inform themselves about the persons whom they might judge suitable for taking on the governing of the entire Society of Jesus. Ignatius as a result proposed a unique method, a period of several days during which the electors exchange information among themselves as regards persons whom they think of as capable of becoming General. One may talk with one person at a time only. Breaking up into groups is out of the question at this stage. Between moments of sharing information each, as he thinks appropriate, goes to the chapel with what he has retained from these encounters.
Traditionally the congregation has 4 days of murmuratio, therefore the election of the new superior general will be held this Friday 14th October.
These days of murmuratio essentially takes place confidentially within the Curia. During these days one is not able to ask the electors how they are doing or what they have retained of their exchanges which, under the sign of the Spirit, will lead them to vote for such and such a Jesuit. Nevertheless, we have made bold to ask Fr. Charles Chilinda of the Jesuit province of Zambia-Malawi, to tell us about what he remembers of the murmuratio of 2008. Fr. Chilinda—now a member of the video team of the 36th General Congregation—was a delegate at the last Congregation, the one that elected Fr. Adolfo Nicolás. Here is what he told us:
“Among the Jesuits who were present I knew only a few from Africa and from the United States. I began meeting with one or other of the delegates, and I noticed a large openness, a great availability. I heard Jesuits being spoken of whom I had never met. In a brief time I was able to form a rather clear image of these men. As a professional of audiovisual communication I would say that I began with a view with which I was not at all at home but with which, little by little, I became at home. I talked with somewhat more than twenty companions and I passed long periods in the silence of prayer. At no time did I feel forced in the direction of one candidate or another. There was a felt atmosphere of freedom”.