Using ‘Big Brother’ to explain the Jesuit election process

Logo for Jesuit General CongregationFather Carlo Casalone, an Italian delegate to the Jesuit General Congregation, said it was interesting that “Grande Fratello,” the Italian version of the televison program “Big Brother,” had its season premiere Jan. 21, just two days after the Jesuits elected their new superior general, Father Adolfo Nicolas.

The Jesuit election was preceded by four days of prayer and “murmuratio,” private one-on-one conversations in which one voting delegate could ask another voting delegate concrete questions about the practical abilities and spiritual gifts of a third Jesuit. There were no candidates and no campaigning. A Jesuit could not volunteer to speak to others on behalf of his favorite. Each delegate could only ask concrete questions about another or respond to concrete questions about another.

Father Casalone told reporters Friday that the election process “was the opposite of the communication style used by ‘Grande Fratello.’ If you go to the ‘Grande Fratello’ Web site, you can spy on the house 24 hours a day. The private sphere is placed in the public sphere indiscriminately.”

The Jesuit election process, on the other hand, takes a large group of men (217 voting delegates) from around the world and tries to help them identify the one person who can best lead almost 20,000 Jesuits working in universities, parishes, schools, social centers, refugee camps and literally hundreds of other settings.

The Jesuit method, he said, “involves getting to know a person profoundly while maintaining discretion and privacy,” the very thing “Big Brother” and its clones is designed to destroy.

And although the entire General Congregation is surrounded by a bit of that same discretion, the Jesuits recognize that their members around the world, their collaborators and their friends want to know something about what is going on inside. So, Jesuit Fathers Daniel Villanueva and Pierre Belanger have come to the rescue. The two recently revamped the General Congregation Web site and keep it updated, including with comments from those watching from the outside. Father Villanueva, a Spaniard, is finishing his degree at the Weston School of Theology in Massachusetts and Father Belanger is based in Montreal where he directs JESCOM-Canada.

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