When I heard that father Arturo Sosa has been elected to lead the Society of Jesus — the worldwide jesuit order — my mind shot back to April 11th, 2002. I remembered the anxiety, alone at home in Puerto Ordaz, with my husband and our one-year old kid, our TV on all day long trying to understand what was happening.

That night when we didn’t know where President Chávez was, if his resignation was real or what the hell would happen next. In those halcyon days before Twitter, watching the TV was the main way to try to gather some news. I remember few of that night’s speeches, but I’ll never forget Arturo Sosa’s, from the RCTV studios.

What was a priest doing on national TV in the middle of such a crisis? To get it, you need to know something about the kind of Christianity he believes in. Since the Vatican II Council, the Catholic Church has been changing, and not only because mass is no longer in Latin.

The Council left us the “Gaudium et Spes”, a fundamental document that establishes that the Church needs to read the signs of the times, that it cannot imagine itself as standing outside the world, above its problems. And this isn’t new, it’s in the Bible: “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” [1 John 4:20].

The Society of Jesus, founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in 1540, stimulated that kind of spirituality through Spiritual Exercises. These exercises include meditation and prayer, but discernment is meant to help you find your personal path to better serve God.

All life aspects are under scrutiny though discernment, because you should be serving God not only when you pray; your entire life should be committed to His service. So, Jesuits, whether monks and missionaries, work through a deep engagement with the world.

Arturo Sosa joined the Society of Jesus in 1966, so he’s been deeply involved in these discussions for half a century. After he graduated in Philosophy  at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (1972) he started working at Centro Gumilla, where he combined his studies of Venezuelan political thought with his work in poor communities.

What was a priest doing on national TV in the middle of such a crisis? To get it, you need to know something about the kind of Christianity he believes in.

He earned a PhD in Political Science at Universidad Central de Venezuela, wrote several books and articles analyzing our society, taught at different universities in Caracas until he was appointed as Rector of Universidad Católica del Táchira and moved to San Cristóbal in 2004. After that he went to Rome where he eventually became a a counselor to Adolfo Nicolás, the Jesuits’ Superior, in 2014.

I first met him around 1987, when I interviewed him for our High School newspaper. That day I went to Centro Gumilla for the first time in my life and put him through what was probably the worst interview he ever had to sit through. I was only 16!

A few years later we met again, he was my Political Theory professor while I studied Sociology and the next year he taught Cambio Social en Venezuela II, maybe the best of my courses in those five years. That was in 1992, but in February we hadn’t begun our spring term, so this course started after 4-F, Chavez first coup.

Arturo Sosa’s involvement in political affairs began early. In 1989, a few days after Caracazo, Luis Ugalde and Jean Pierre Wysenbach who lived in a popular barrio, La Vega, were imprisoned, accused of “subversive activities”. A young Arturo Sosa went with other Jesuits to negotiate their liberation with the police.

Negotiation and enforcing everyone’s human rights have been always been in his political beliefs and actions.

In Cambio Social en Venezuela II we spent a life-changing semester discussing our social and economic problems, the difficulties in addressing them and the challenges they imposed on our democracy. He was the most demanding professor I had ever had and our group (just nine sociology students) freaked out over his grueling tests. He always wanted more from us and we were terrified of not being good enough.

At the same time, he was very close and was willing to share with students. The sociology department had so few students and we used to gather a lot and invite our professors. Arturo Sosa, like most of them, used to come along and became a friend to us.

That night in 2002, Arturo Sosa talked about the peace and understanding that were broken that day because of violence. I knew then we were witnessing a very grave moment of our history. He was calling for peace, not revenge.

Because statements like that, many people said he was chavista. Maybe in 1999 he, as many others, he hoped things could change for the better. But, as a professor he never supported 1992’s coups. He has always been a democrat, he believes that people’s needs  have to be heard and that’s why he could never support a violent or authoritarian strategy to defeat chavismo.

Como sea isn’t good enough, either for chavismo nor for opposition. Not an easy position in our polarized politics.

Negotiation and enforcing everyone’s human rights have been always been in his political beliefs and actions.

After my graduation Arturo Sosa became Provincial, the Superior of Jesuits in Venezuela right around the time I left to do my PhD in Spain. After 1996 I have seen him only a few times: in a formal visit he made to Universidad de Deusto, where I was studying. Maybe a year later, in Puerto Ordaz when I was working at UCAB Guayana and I needed to decide if I should stay or move back to Caracas. We saw each other a lot in such formal occasions when I was Director of our School of Social Sciences.

The last time I saw him was in 2012, after I left that post. I went to a conference in La Castellana just to see him, I guess I felt guilty for stepping down. But now I know that wasn’t my path. I wish I could have seen him after my father’s death, but he was in Rome by then.

It is very unlikely we will meet again, now he has become Superior General of the Society of Jesus. He is the first non-European Superior the society has had in its nearly 500 years.

He now belongs to the world’s church, not to the friends and students that are so proud of him. Maybe if we both live long enough (I hope we do!) and he retires at 80, like Peter Hans Kolvenbach and Adolfo Nicolás did, and then he comes back to Caracas we might talk again around a cup of coffee about the changes we have seen in our lifetimes and the future that we will not see, but can only imagine.

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