Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Man From The East is New Society of Jesus General

The new head, or the General, of the Society of Jesus is a man who has spent many years of his life serving in the Philippines. The Society of Jesus elected Fr.Adolfo Nicolas as the 29th successor to St. Ignatius of Loyola. As you can glean from parts of the insightful essay below by Fr. Danny Huang, he is a man well-loved and highly-respected by his peers.

"To lead the Society as General clearly requires many other gifts. "He ought to be endowed with great intelligence and judgment," Ignatius writes. "Learning," "prudence," "experience," are among the necessary qualifications for governance that St. Ignatius adds to his list.

Fr. Nico, the "wise man from the East," as some are already calling
him, is richly blessed with such gifts that are both personal and the
fruit of his broad experience of many cultures and governance on many
levels. "Nowhere was it written that we wanted someone from the
Orient," Fr. Gendron observes. "But for the third time in a row, the
Society has elected a missionary, like Fr. Kolvenbach and Fr. Arrupe,
a Westerner who has spent most of his Jesuit life in the Orient."
There is something providential, surely, in this pattern.

Fr. Nico, European in origin and training, yet with such
breathtakingly broad cultural exposure, and indeed exercising
leadership for over forty years in various parts of Asia, brings with
him crucial perspectives and sensibilities at a time when the Society
of Jesus finds itself in major demographic transitions.
As a professional theologian of depth and creativity, he is also well
equipped to help articulate for the Society faithful yet fresh and
inspiring visions of our mission and religious life today. His years
as Director (and at present, Chair) of the East Asian Pastoral
Institute in Manila involve a rich experience of respectful and
fruitful cooperation with the hierarchies and local Church leaders of
many continents. Moreover, because he worked for several years in the
pastoral care of vulnerable Filipino and Asian migrant workers in
Tokyo, he brings to his office a special care for the poor, whom the
Church and the Society of Jesus call Jesuits to have a preferential
love for. At the same time, because he has labored for many decades
in the increasingly secular milieu of Japan, he also has a profound
sensitivity to the challenges of unbelief and religious indifference
that are the context and challenge of many parts of the developed
world. Finally, as one who has been Provincial of Japan and President
of the Conference of Provincials of East Asia and Oceania, as well as
former Major Superior of our Jesuit missions in Cambodia, East Timor
and Myanmar, Nico is no stranger to the requirements of governance and
administration, and brings this rich administrative and leadership
experience with him into his new office.

Young at 71

Yesterday, with a glint of mischievous humor in his eyes, Fr. Nico
told me that he had never experienced so many Jesuits asking him with
such concern about his health. This is, of course, entirely natural.
Ignatius realistically lists sufficient "physical strength demanded by
his charge," as the final qualification of the General. And Nico is
71—72 by April.

His age was, frankly, a concern. But interestingly, it became clear to
many of us that chronological years were not the most reliable measure
of age where Nico was concerned. Paradoxically, one of the oldest
among us was also one of the most youthful in energy and spirit. "He
has the mind of a young man," someone told me in admiration. "I have
never walked with anyone who walked so fast. I have to tell him to
slow down when I walk with him," a Latin American Jesuit told me.

But perhaps it is best to let the young speak. Bishop Francisco Claver
writes: "I was at LHS [Loyola House of Studies, the Philippine
Province scholasticate] for supper when we got the news--everybody
cheered like we were winning a basketball game!" In nearby Arrupe
International Residence, the seventy or so scholastics there have been
excitedly gathering to share stories and experiences of the General
who, until yesterday, was their Major Superior. Scholastics, mostly in
their twenties, from East Timor, Myanmar, China, the Philippines,
Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand have expressed their delight
in and appreciation of the choice of the Congregation. Isaias Caldas,
a junior from East Timor, wrote to his Regional Superior, Fr. John
Mace, thus: "Personally I am excited and overjoyed because this
General is someone whom I know personally, a General who always passes
by in front of AIR after his lunch in EAPI, a General who once told us
during one of his exhortations to the community to make our religious
struggles become "big," [broad in apostolic horizons] not limited only
to our worries about prayer and chastity, a General who wants us to
think now about what we can do in the future, a General who wishes us
to be very good at one thing for, if that is so, we would be very
useful in our ministry later, a General who has good humor and is
friendly to us scholastics, a General who encourages me to read more
and watch good movies like a good Jesuit."

"Because we are poor, God is our only strength."

Yesterday morning, in the Aula, when it became clear that Adolfo
Nicolas had been chosen, and when he finally left his place among the
electors to stand and then kneel in our midst to make his profession
of faith, I found myself, to my embarrassment, unable to control my
tears. I felt such pity for Nico, as we placed the enormous burden of
the governance of the Society on him, and also such gratitude to him,
too, for his willingness to accept this office for the sake of the
Society. As I wept, I found myself repeatedly praying a single
sentence: "Lord, help Nico."

Today, however, I am more at peace, mostly because I see that the
General is at peace too. This evening, Fr. General led us in a Mass of
Thanksgiving at the Church of the Gesù. His homily (in Italian
interspersed with a few "Italianized" Spanish words!) was deep and
moving, radiant with "Evangelical simplicity," one European Jesuit
told me, "without a single excess word." He reflected on the Servant
of Yahweh in the book of Isaiah. Where does this humble servant get
his strength to serve? To answer this question, Nico shared an
experience he had during his ministry to migrant workers in Japan. A
woman, a Filipina, overwhelmed by her many problems, confessed to her
friend her confusion and near despair. Her friend, also a Filipina
migrant worker, simply said to her: "Let us go to Church. Because we
are poor, God is our only strength." Once again, when I heard these
last words, I felt tears rush to my eyes, because it seemed to me that
Fr. General had borrowed the words of this poor, vulnerable,
faith-filled woman to speak of himself.

"Because we are poor, God is our only strength." It is surely
appropriate, that as we pray in gratitude to God for the gift of our
new General, we pray too for him. May God be Nico's only strength, as
he leads us, in wisdom, courage and compassion, in the Society's
service of "God alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman
Pontiff," ad majorem Dei gloriam." - Daniel Patrick Huang, S.J.

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