May 1, 2019 — "Two years ago when I was in visiting a Jesuit province somewhere, there were ID cards for the participants. Some said, “[helpers]”; others said “Jesuit”. I joked and asked: “Are not Jesuits also “[helpers]”?”
This story was shared last month in Croatia by Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus. As this half joke shows, his speech was about the collaboration between Jesuits (and the clergy in general) with the laity.
"I want to emphasize that the mission given by the Lord is not a mission that belongs exclusively to the Society of Jesus. The Lord calls all of us to the same mission, even though we have different ways of fulfilling it. That is why the Society of Jesus today stresses cooperation with others as a necessary dimension of how we conceive and practice the apostolate."
This was not the first time that Father General had spoken out about collaboration between members of the clergy and lay people. Last spring, during his visit to Canada on the occasion of the creation of the new Jesuit province of Canada, this topic was at the heart of his speech. "The Society is an apostolic body born of collaboration: it functions well only by collaborating with others, inside and outside the Church," he said, adding later, "In this apostolic body, lay men and women are companions in the mission and form with us the one and only body of friends in the Lord."
Fr. Sosa's speech is in line with Pope Francis' words about the sin of clericalism. This attitude where ordained men feel superior to the laity has fostered, among other things, the crisis of abuses in the clergy.
"The opposite of this vision is what Pope Francis has called over and over again the sin of 'clericalism,' the attitude that believes that only an elite group of ordained men are the real Church, that they have all the answers, all the power and authority, with no need to listen, to learn, to be accountable. It is clericalism that has created the crisis of abuse in the Church, and the only way to heal the Church is to overcome clericalism," he added.
"I would also point out that it is not only priests and clerics who can have clericalist mindsets. Sometimes, lay people can be more clericalist than priests. For example, those who distrust lay leadership in ministries, and only want Jesuits to be heads, might be guilty of clericalism in some way."
Together with the Pope, Father General therefore, understands the skepticism of many lay people towards the Church, and calls for a better, more egalitarian collaboration in order to advance on the path of reconciliation.
Returning to the anecdote at the beginning, it is true that separating Jesuits and lay helpers makes little sense, especially if we look at these words by Pope Francis: "The laity are simply the vast majority of God's people. At their service, there is a minority: ordained ministers."