Saturday, January 19, 2008

"The Man God Had in Mind"

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."
Much has been made of Adolfo Nicolás' absence from the commonly-held lists of generabili. And, candidly, that's exactly the outcome not a few Jesuits were hoping for.

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

The five-century old process, however, proved those fears unfounded, trumping the buzzmill to produce a choice that wasn't just surprising but, in the truest sense of the word, "inspired."

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

Representing the Wisconsin Province, Fr David Schultenover (the editor-in-chief of Theological Studies) blogged his thoughts:

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 from the US Jesuit Conference, the reflections of the nation's provincials (electors all):
[USJC] President Father Thomas Smolich, SJ, who served on the Coetus Praevius (a planning committee for GC 35) with Father Nicolás, said, “The electors chose the man God had in mind.” Smolich added, “Our new Father General is profoundly spiritual; when you talk to him there is a depth that is striking.”

In an age where diverse cultures, religions and ways of life interact on an unprecedented scale, Father Nicolás is widely viewed as among the leading Jesuit experts on inter-religious dialogue. “His history as a scholar and theology professor, educated in both Tokyo and Rome, and his multiple language skills of east and west were also important to this international body of educators,” said Father Fred Kammer, SJ, provincial of New Orleans and one of the electors. “His experiences of the dynamic emerging Church in such countries as India, Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines and his vision for spreading the Gospel appealed to many – reminding them of the great missionary St. Francis Xavier,” according to Kammer.

New York Provincial Father Jeff Chojnacki, SJ added, “his election is a bridge to all parts of the world.” It is a bridge expected to reach across not only geographic divisions. Father Shogo Sumita, SJ, current provincial of Japan, recalled how Father Nicolás moved from the provincial residence to one of poorest neighborhoods. “He has a deep grace of Ignatian spirituality and a creative imagination. After serving as provincial, he decided to live and work with the poor,” said Father Sumita.

Father Nicolás was born in Spain, earned a degree in systematic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, taught at the Sophia University in Tokyo, directed the East Asia Pastoral Institute in the Philippines, served as presiding secretary of the 34th General Congregation in 1995, and speaks five languages. His visits to the United States have included stops at the Arrupe Experience, an annual preparation program for American Jesuits nearing ordination.
The Provincial of Maryland Father Tim Brown, SJ sees the election of a man with this breadth to be a “sign of unity and peace.” New England Provincial Father Tom Regan adds, “We are delighted that such a holy man, one who has such a vision of the world, has been selected to lead us.”

“And at 71 years old,” says Father Smolich, “Nicolás walks faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
PHOTOS: Don Doll SJ (1,2,4)/Dani Villanueva SJ (3,5)