VATICAN CITY – As the Jesuits choose a new superior general, they will be emphasizing their vision for the future, said Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, who has led the Society of Jesus since 1983.
Father Kolvenbach has asked to resign; 225 Jesuits were set to begin meeting in Rome Jan. 7 to discuss the current state of the order and to elect his successor.
“Choosing one from among the thousands of Jesuits capable (of being general), the society will say what it expects for its future: a prophet or a wise man, an innovator or a moderator, a contemplative or an activist, a point man or a man of unity,” Father Kolvenbach said in a joint interview with Vatican Radio and the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
The election, which will take place after formal presentations on the strengths and challenges facing the more than 19,200 Jesuits in the world, must point to the Jesuit who will help the order “progress on the path of God,” he said.
In the interview, released Jan. 4, Father Kolvenbach was asked about the Jesuits’ commitment to interreligious dialogue and particularly to dialogue with Islam.
“For a dialogue to be possible, it is necessary to begin with a sincere mutual respect that goes beyond mere courtesy,” he said. “Without this there will not be dialogue, but confrontation.”
Father Kolvenbach said the starting place is the “dialogue of life,” in which members of different religions share their hopes and dreams for their lives, their families and communities, including “the desire to live in peace, in security and in an environment free from pollution.”
The Dutch Jesuit, who worked for years in Lebanon before being elected superior general, said that once believers learn to live together and to cooperate with one another they can move on to a second stage of dialogue in which they share their spiritual experiences and religious practices.
“Finally, there is the religious dialogue founded on the theological elements of both religions. Naturally, this is reserved to theologians who must respectfully stop before an unsolvable problem: Christian faith in the Holy Trinity cannot be reduced to the formulation of a pure monotheism like that professed by Islam,” he said.
“However, this difficulty must not be an obstacle to the dialogue of life recommended by the pope, because both Christians and Muslims have a true religious sense about life and share the conviction that ‘man does not live by bread alone,’“ he said.
Father Kolvenbach also was asked what it would be like to answer to a provincial superior after being the top Jesuit for so long.
“After almost 25 years of listening to almost 20,000 Jesuits, obedience to just one should mark a time of peace,” he said.