Sunday, January 20, 2008

Adolfo Nicolas, S.J.: The Wise Man From The East

Accordingly to Whispers in the Loggia
Rocco Palmo
PHOTOS: Don Doll SJ (1,2,4)/Dani Villanueva SJ

Outside the Aula, the Society's official chronicle of the day depicted the moment thus:

" Only electors were allowed in the aula; everyone else, including community members and congregation staff, had to wait in the room below and listen for the telltale applause that would signal an election. About 11:15 there was a false alarm, then at 11:45 came the loud, sustained applause let us know that we had a new Superior General. A bell in the Curia signaled that the community could enter the aula and salute the new general.

"As the door to the aula opened, the whispers swept down the stairs: "Adolfo Nicolás, it's Adolfo!" It was public Father Adolfo Nicolás, former provincial of Japan and currently president of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceana, had been selected as the 29th Superior General of the Jesuits. Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, his predecessor, read the decree formally naming him, and then Father General Nicolás placed his hand on the Holy Scriptures and professed his faith, kneeling before a crucifix in the center of the aula. Only then did the electors--beginning with Father Kolvenbach and followed by the Curia community--congratulate the new general. Many expressed their emotion and affection by a wordless hug, and some had tears in their eyes."

As the new Father-General prepares to celebrate his Mass of Thanksgiving -- including the homily that'll serve as his inaugural address to his Society and the wider church -- his electors have begun to speak.

Much has been made that Adolfo Nicolás was not in the commonly-held list of generabili. And, candidly, that's exactly the sign not a few Jesuits were hoping for.

Given the unprecedented length of the transition -- almost two years exactly from the first public reports of a "possible" congregation of election until today -- there was a fear that the 24 months of informal murmuratio would render Ignatius' foreseen 96 hours of prayer and conversation a fait accompli.

The theory proved itself unfounded, however, as the five-century old process triumphed over the 24-hour news cycle to produce a choice that was, in the truest sense of the word, "inspired."
Representing the Wisconsin Province, Fr David Schultenover (the editor-in-chief of Theological Studies) blogged it thus:

Why Adolfo Nicholás as the new general? At age 71 (72 in April), I can imagine that the rest of the world is saying to us electors, “What were you thinking?! You couldn’t find a younger man?!” Well, God alone knows the real reason. Of course, age is a factor. But there are many other factors too, factors that apparently outweigh the age factor. The first time I met Adolfo, the day he arrived, I was instantly impressed with his youthful spirit, which belied his age, and his integrity. He was clearly a man at home with himself and of good humor. In fact, I told him, kiddingly, that he was a marked man—kidding, because I figured that for all his personal gifts, experience, record of accomplishments, and reputation, he would be a dark horse simply because of his age. But apparently most of us—and eventually all of us, I hope—concluded that this was in fact the man God was calling to be general of the Society of Jesus. John XXIII was elected pope at age 76, and Benedict XVI at 78, so why not Adolfo Nicholás at 71? What I find especially attractive about him is that he is a professional theologian who has very broad and deep experience of a part of the world—the Far East—that is becoming increasingly important as world-hegemonies shift. He will bring that perspective to the Society of Jesus and to the church it serves. The Basque Pedro Arrupe came to us as general from Japan in 1965. Forty-three years later, the northern Spaniard Adolfo Nicholás also comes to us from Japan. I trust he’ll be the proverbial wise man from the East.

And the president of the US Jesuit Conference Fr Thomas Smolich offered his impressions to CNS:
Nicolás [Smolich said] "is a great man. He is inspirational, he is holy and he represents a great bridge among the various cultures in the church."

Smolich said he had gotten to know the new general as they both served on the commission preparing for the General Congregation. Although Father Nicolas is 71, "he has the energy of a much younger man."...

Father Smolich said, "I do not think there was a cause-and-effect relationship, but we have chosen one of the premiere men in the society" in the field of relations between Christianity and other religions.

"He can work intimately with the pope and the Vatican on this very issue," the Jesuit said.

"Seriously, he is one of the most intelligent and holiest men I have ever met," Father Smolich said. "He has the breadth and depth to handle these issues."

Photos from the 35th General Congregation
taken by Fr. Don Doll, S.J. - Creighton University
Magis Productions

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