Jesuits elect new leader, a Latin American like the Jesuit pope

Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, the new leader of the Roman Catholic religious order of the Jesuits, is seen in this handout photo released by the Jesuits press office in Rome, Italy, October 14, 2016. Jesuits Press Office Handout via Reuters

ROME (Reuters) - The Jesuits, one of the world’s largest and most influential Roman Catholic religious orders which counts Argentine Pope Francis as a member, elected a Venezuelan as their new leader on Friday.

After the election of Pope Francis as history’s first Latin American pontiff in 2013, the choice of Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, 67, was another indication that the leadership of the 1.2 billion member Church is becoming less Euro-centric.

Representatives from around the world elected Sosa the 31st superior general of the Society of Jesus, the order of priests and brothers founded by St. Ignatius Loyola in 1540. He is their first leader from Latin America.

The Jesuits, who have about 17,000 members, are renowned for their role in education, running some of the world’s most prestigious universities such as Georgetown in the United States.

They also are very active in human rights issues and social work. The Jesuit Refugee Service, which helps migrants and asylum seekers, operates in 50 countries.

Jesuit leaders were until recently known as the “black pope” because of their black robe and because they ruled for life. But the last two have begun a tradition of retiring at age 80. Sosa succeeds Adolfo Nicolas of Spain.

Reporting By Philip Pullella