Conscienticizing? Jesuit Leader Brings The Faithful Its Meaning


The word is nowhere to be found in the dictionary. But considering the person who said it speaks eight languages, has a doctorate in theology, and is the leader of the largest Catholic men's religious order in the world, let the Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach be excused for cobbling together a term out of thin air.

Its meaning was certainly clear this week to the audience at Seattle University, where Kolvenbach, who is the superior general of the Society of Jesus, the order of 24,000 Jesuit priests and brothers, said faith includes "conscienticizing" people - raising their awareness - about injustices in the world.

Kolvenbach, 64, said faith and justice are inseparable. He reminded the gathering of students, faculty and members of the public in SU's Campion Tower Ballroom Monday that Jesus commanded "that we love God and at the same moment love our neighbor," and that Jesus had a special love "for the least of the brothers and sisters."

Kolvenbach, who was born in the Netherlands and is now based in Rome, traveled to New York, South Dakota, Idaho, Eastern Washington and Alaska this past week during his U.S. visit. Here, he told Seattle University leaders they should develop in their students an abiding concern for social problems, and that people should learn to make "no significant decision without first thinking of how it would impact the least member of society."

The Society of Jesus, often called the intellectual vanguard of the Catholic Church, was founded 450 years ago by St. Ingnatius of Loyola, who taught that people could find their way to God through education and that they could best worship God by serving others. Seattle University is a Jesuit-run school, founded in 1891.

There are approximately 350 Jesuits in the Northwest, including 25 active priests at SU.

Kolvenbach said that Jesuit leaders have found in the late 20th century, with its spate of new technologies, a "lost sense of God's presence in the world," a growing secularism, and a lack of desire by corporations to use technology for human growth rather than exploitation.

He said Jesuits believe faith requires people to actively advocate for the poor and oppressed. He noted six Jesuit priests at the University of Central America, their cook and her daughter were assassinated in El Salvador in 1989 because Army commanders believed the priests were the intellectual mentors of rebels fighting economic inequities. He called on people to live simply, and to ask how their solidarity with the poor was reflected in Masses, outreach programs and other facets of ministry.

Kolvenbach acknowledged a significant decline in the number of Jesuits in the world, a number that once totaled 36,000.

"We are not a business organization. I cannot hire or produce Jesuits. They are given by the Lord and we have to count on his grace," he said, adding that the Jesuits can strengthen their hand by working in partnership with others.

Seattle University, for example, is trying to imbue lay faculty and administrators with the Jesuit philosophy to ensure that ethos remains strong on campus as the number of priests there declines.