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Posted: January 9

A good start

We are already in the third day of the congregation, and the pace is finally settling down a bit to something approaching normal. The weekend was a blur of men arriving in Rome from all over the world. It was noisy and excited- lots of greetings shared between friends and new introductions. I was surprised at how many men in the congregation have been part of my own history, such as Fr. George Quickley who lived in the Jesuit community in Washington, D.C. when I worked on the Jesuit Conference staff. He was then a prison chaplain, and now serves as the first provincial of the newly-formed province of North West Africa. It was good to see him again, as well as old friends like Fr. Bob Scullin who was one of my community mates during theology; Bob is now provincial of the Detroit Province. Plus there are so many men I have come to know from visiting communication apostolates around the world over the past seven years. On Sunday evening there was a reception for the Jesuits living in our house and the one next door. The noise level was very high, and people moved from group to group.

Monday morning was a long, packed day. I left the Curia at 8:00 in the morning to accompany Fr. Don Doll over to the Gesù Church where we would celebrate the opening Mass at 10:00. We needed to prepare to take photographs and tape the Mass. Don had visited the church a few days before and found where the sound system was in the sacristy. We wanted to set up a feed directly from the amplifier to one of the two flash-disk recorders we are using. It was easy to take a patch cord from the output of the amp into the tape recorder but when we listened on headphones, the sound was awful—a rough, irritating whine. I had never heard feedback like that before; perhaps the cable was not balanced, I thought. Of course, the labels on the amp were all in Italian, and I did not dare change any settings. So early in the morning and already our plans were falling apart. We went out in the church to see what was wrong. I noticed a figure up on the altar moving back and forth; then I realized I was looking at the sacristan vacuuming the carpet on the altar. The system worked perfectly. OK, one crisis averted. Then Don led me up the winding, dusty steps that ascended the back of the church up to the railing that led all around the walls just below the ceiling. I don’t know exactly how high it is, but one would not want to fall, and the thin metal railing did not give much confidence. Fortunately, my old mountain climbing experience helped me feel comfortable, but Don (who has lived for years in Omaha on the high plains) did not like it a bit. It was the perfect spot for getting a photograph of the whole church. I came back during the Eucharistic prayer and got some nice images of all 400-some priests vested in white.

We also got nice images of the concelebrants as they came out of the Jesuit residence next to the church and walked across the little piazza and then entered for the solemn procession. I don’t think Romans are used to seeing so many priests out walking on the street. It was very impressive. And I was very happy that we were celebrating the Mass in the Gesù rather than in the church across the street from the Curia as they did in the previous general congregation. The Gesù is the mother church of the Society and is absolutely full of our symbols and iconography, from the enormous IHS and sunburst above the main altar to the side altars honoring St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier. The church is redolent of Jesuit history and provided the perfect setting for this important moment in our history.

Mass itself began in a wonderfully solemn fashion with all of the delegates processing up the long main aisle as the Jesuit choir sang the entrance hymn. The formal elements of a solemn high Mass were just right for this occasion: Cardinal Rodé incensed the altar and we sang a polyphonic Kyrie and Gloria. Fr. Pepe de Vera, head of the Press and Information Office, tried to set limits on the photographers beforehand, but they did not follow directions too well. Don was the official photographer; he and I had permission to move around the church. I think that when the other photographers saw him, they wanted to move around as well. Even the videographers migrated away from their assigned place in front of St. Ignatius’altar. Seeing all of the press attention underscored the significance of the General Congregation. I am very aware of its importance; among other things, the man who is elected superior general will become my direct boss. So I have a vested interest in the outcome of the congregation. But many people both inside and outside the Church are aware of the wide influence of the Society.

Don and I are working on the images and sound we recorded and will publish them to the congregation web site ( Meanwhile the delegates are going about their business, which is mostly prayer and reflection right now. When we think of the elections in the political world, we think of TV ads and active campaigning to get a position of honor. The Jesuits go about it just the opposite. Electing a superior general is serious business that demands the guidance of the Spirit. So prayer and reflectivity are crucial. While the delegates do their work, I am free to get back to my office and take care of my own.

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