Monday, January 28, 2008

Nico-Nico Nicolas will be obedient...

Fr. Nicolas having an audience with the Pope. Photo from Jesuit Headquarters.

[Have you noticed that in almost all the photos, Fr. Nico-las is smiling? In Japanese we say of a smiling face nico nico!]

Since his election as the General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas has been covered widely by the mass media, and there are now articles on him in Wikipedia, Time, New York Times, etc., etc. Overall he is rated favorably for his erudition, cheerfulness, missionary experience, and maturity. Most people who know him personally in Japan too think that he will do an excellent job.

There is also a section of Catholic netizens who are alarmed or worried about his election. These are the same ones who are alarmed and worried about persons like Jon Sobrino, Jacques du Puis, Roger Haight, Anthony de Mello, Balasurya, Bermejo, Phan, and such theologians. Obviously they expect Jesuits to be not only obedient, but also docile, cooperative, non-confrontational, and traditional. Although I don't like to direct readers to some extravagant Jesuit accusers, here is one that is, shall I say, moderately accusatory. A certain Samuel Gregg, writing for the National Review on January 25, sets his theological tone by saying, '"the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity . . . and the resurrection of Jesus." These are hardly debatable subjects for Catholics.' Then he praises the achievements of the Jesuits throughout history... with an unpleasant truth.

The Jesuits, after all, played a major role in the Counter-Reformation that rolled back Protestantism's frontiers in Europe. For almost 500 years they have imparted a superb education to thousands of people. Famous Jesuit alumni include Cervantes, Descartes, de Gaulle, Moliere, and Scalia ? as well as Castro, Diderot, and Voltaire.

The Jesuits themselves were no intellectual slouches. In How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, Thomas Woods notes that Isaac Newton counted Jesuits as among his most prized scientific correspondents. Thirty-five lunar craters are named after Jesuit mathematicians and scientists. Jesuits helped identify key concepts underlying market economics 200 years before Adam Smith.

These are no small achievements. Yet it's hard to deny today's Jesuits are in trouble. In raw numbers, the Jesuits have dropped from 36,000 in 1965 to about 19,000 today.

Then he goes into criticizing Jesuits like Sobrino and Haight, and expressing his evaluation of Nicolas as follows.
In his first homily as Jesuit Father-General this past Sunday, Nicolas did little to assuage fears that muddled theology remains ascendant in the Society of Jesus: "In this globalized world of ours the number of those excluded by all is increasing," the new Father-General intoned, "since our society only has room for the big and not the small."

More troubling than this 1970s boilerplate, Nicolas seemed to imply that the order would seek to further relativize the gospel to accommodate non-Christians: "[W]hat is the color, the tone, the image of salvation today for those many people who are in need of it, those human non-geographic nations that demand salvation." He's off to an inauspicious start.

Gregg is just one example of the concerned. Providentially, on the same day, the National Catholic Reporter Conversation Cafe and Catholic News published articles to assure the world that the new Jesuit General will be humbly obedient to the Pope. The interesting article in CNS begins:

The obedience, affection and common mission binding the Society of Jesus to the pope are solid, unchanging and the reason why differences can be so painful, said the new superior general of the Jesuits.

Father Adolfo Nicolas, elected Jan. 19 to head the world's largest Catholic men's order, told reporters, "The Society of Jesus has always been, from the beginning, and always will be in communion with the Holy Father, and we are happy to be so."

Meeting journalists Jan. 25, he said, "If there are difficulties, it is precisely because we are so close."

Like a married couple, he said, the Jesuits and the pope are bound to one another and committed to working together for the good of the church and the world.

"Only those who love each other can hurt each other," he said.

As to the existence of any personal tension between him and the Pope, the article reports the following:

"The Society of Jesus wants to cooperate with the Vatican and obey the Holy Father. This has not and will not change. We were born in this context, and this is the context that will determine our decisions," the superior said....

Other newspapers, he said, have tried to imply that there is "a theological distance between me and (Pope) Benedict XVI," when, in fact, Father Nicolas' theological studies included the then-Father Joseph Ratzinger's textbooks, which "were very interesting and had a newness and an inspiration that all of us recognized."

"The distance is a theory in the imagination of those who have written it," the superior general said.

This is a highly readable article and will assure those who worry about Nico's orthodoxy. The article also reports on how Nico was influenced by Japan and the East. The concluding paragraph must be quoted:

Father Nicolas said he hoped the Jesuits would follow the principles of Mohandas Gandhi, "who said that when you speak of something you must first ask, 'Is it true?' because if it is not true, then it is not interesting. Second, 'Is it gentle, charitable, kind?' and third, 'Is it good for others?'"
Read the full article here.

The NCRCafe article by John Allen covers the same ground in a more dramatic way.
Writing under the title "New Jesuit leader: Theology is a dialogue, but we will obey," Allen reports:

"The Society of Jesus from the very beginning has always been in communion with the Holy Father, and it will continue to be," Nicolas said. Referring to impressions of a split between the order and the Vatican, Nicolas said this is "an artificial tension that comes from outside of us."...
"We want to collaborate with the Holy See and to obey the Holy Father," Nicolas said. "That has not changed, and it will not change. This is the context in which we will make decisions."

In a similar spirit, Nicolas also rejected reports of any theological tension between himself and Pope Benedict XVI.

"This is false," he insisted, saying that as a young theology student he read the books of then-Professor Joseph Ratzinger.

"There was a newness, an exhilaration that engaged all of us" in Ratzinger's writings, Nicolas said. "Any distance [between himself and Benedict] is more theoretical in the minds of those who imagine it," he said.

This highly interesting artilce too has a lengthy presentation of Nico's views on Japan and Asia, and how he was changed as a result of his experiences here.

"I believe that Asia changed me, I hope for the better," Nicolas said. "I came to better understand others, to accept what's different about them, trying to understand these differences and what we can learn from them."

"This may be hard for you to believe, but in Spain I was a little intolerant," Nicolas said. "Religion was understood as fidelity to a series of practices, and I was very demanding."

"In Japan, I saw that true religiosity goes deeper … I learned to smile at differences that in Spain would have made me very nervous. I also learned that imperfection is natural, and we have to accept it on principle."

"For the Japanese, it's often a scandal that we are so intolerant, not accepting of differences," he said. "This is a challenge for us."

"Asia is a challenge for the universal church," he said. "Asia can give us much," later citing especially the "deep humanism" of the region.

You can read the entire article here, at NCR Conversation Cafe

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fr Adolfo Nicolás, S. J. Elected the New General of Jesuits

Taking the Oath of Office
Fr. Nicolas, the newly elected Black Pope, taking the Oath of Office. Photo Credit: Fr. Dan Doll, S.J., Jesuit Curia, Rome.

Surprise! Surprise!

For the second time, a former Provincial (regional head) of the Jesuits of Japan has been elected the General of the nearly 20,000 Jesuits worldwide. The Jesuit General, known also by the ambiguous title of 'the Black Pope', is the supreme head of all the Jesuits. Fr. Adolfo Nicolas was the Provincial Superior of Japan (1993-1999), following the footsteps of the colossal Pedro Arrupe, who too served as the Provincial of Japan and later became the General of the Jesuits. Given his age, a little over 70, some felt he may not be elected, but the delegates in Rome seemed to have thought otherwise. After stepping down as Provincial, Fr. Nicolas held various offices until he became, in 2004, the President of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania (JCEAO), with headquarters in Quezon City, Philippines. It was as the President of JCEAO that he attended the General Congregation.

Fr. Nicolas was born in Palencia, Spain, on April 29, 1936, and entered the Society of Jesus in Aranjuez at the tender age of 17, in 1953. Like most Jesuit missionaries who came to Japan, he finished his noviciate (first stage of training as a Jesuit) and philosophate in Spain, and then arrived in Japan to dedicate himself to the Japanese mission. After Japanese studies and some teaching, he began theological studies at Sophia University in 1964. Ordained priest on March 17, 1967, he took his final vows--the vows that Jesuits take to be completely incorporated into the Society of Jesus--on October 5, 1976. He is a theologian by profession, having done his advanced theological studies at the Gregorian University Rome (1968-1971), and his major topics of research have been related to dogmatic and systematic theology.

After his return from Rome, he became a professor of theology in the Faculty of Theology at Sophia University (1971), but within a few years was called upon to lead the East Asian Pastoral Institute (EAPI) in Quezon City, Philippines. The EAPI describes its mission as "striving to witness to a new way of being Church" in Asia. His term of office at EAPI (1978-1984) was a resounding success as he brought in bright professors and students from different parts of Asia to build a theological and spiritual network among the Asian Christians. Having achieved a reputation for leadership, Fr. Nicolas has since held several significant positions. He became the Rector of the Jesuit Theologate in Kamishakujii, a suburb of Tokyo, in 1991; the Jesuit Provincial of Japan in 1993; and the President of JCEAO in 2004.

Fr. Nicholas being congratulated by a delegate. Photo credit: Jesuit Headquarters, Fr. Dan Doll, S.J.

Fr. Nicolas is an active theologian renowned for his insightful articles, books, sermons, retreats, and lectures, especially among the Asian Christians and the Spaniards. Two of his outstanding books in Japanese are: 希望の地平-現代における修道生活の意義 [kibou no chihei--gendaini okeru shuudouseikatsu no igi] 'The Horizon of Hope: Meaning of Religious Life in Contemporary Times' (Tokyo: Joshi Paulokai [Paulist Sisters' Press], 1976) and ゆるしの秘跡 [Yurushi no Hiseki] 'The Sacrament of Penance' (Tokyo: Joshi Paulokai [Paulist Sisters' Press], 1977). Among his numerous articles is this one addressing the burning issue of Christianity in Asia: "Which Asia? Which Christinaity? Which Crisis?" (Concilium (2005/3), 64-70).

Fr. Nicolas is a cheerful and optimistic person, not to mention well-versed in theology and spirituality. He first came to Japan in 1961 and has spent most of his time since then in Japan and the Philippines. He is fluent in Spanish, English, Japanese, and several other European languages. As a professor of theology, he is quite familiar with the current religious crises confronting the Church and the Society, and as a former Provincial of Jesuits in Japan, he has the experience of facing major challenges. Fr. Nicolas has shown special interest in helping the poor, immigrants, and refugees, and has personally spent three years, after completing his term as the Provincial, working for immigrant laborers in Japan. At least in Japan, most Bishops know him well as he was a professor of theology, teaching both at Sophia University and at the Tokyo diocesan seminary, and has served as a theological consultant to several of them. Given his ever-smiling personality, he has always been popular with young Jesuits, and most seniors too admire him for his intellect and common sense.

The New and the Old? Fr. Nicolas greeted by the retiring Fr. Kolvenbach Photo Credit: Fr. Dan Doll, S.J., Jesuit Curia, Rome.

As he was both a student and professor at Sophia University, all of us at Sophia University wish him well and hope he will guide the Jesuits masterfully to face the future with courage and confidence.

The official announcement from Rome concerning his election is as follows:

Father Adolfo Nicolás new Superior General

Father Adolfo Nicolás was elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus on Saturday, 19 January in a solemn ceremony following four days of prayer and conversation by the 217 electors who came to Rome from all over the world.

Coincidences: Professor Masashi Masuda, currently in the Faculty of Theology, Sophia University, points out the interesting fact that Fr. Nicolas was born in 1936, the year of the Rat, the same year in which the current Prime Minister of Japan, Yasuo Fukuda, was also born--and this year, 2008, also happens to be a Year of the Rat.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fined for joking about "Ten Commandments"

Cartoon (c) Mike Graston [The Windsor Star, Ontario], used with his permission.

Yes, a TV Station has been fined for joking about the Ten Commandments--no, not the Ten Commandments, but the Ten Commandments of Driving issued by Church authorities!

According to CNA, the Catholic News Agency, a Slovakian TV station has been fined the hefty sum of $88,400 "for making fun of a Vatican document on Christian driving." The CNA report gives no example of how the station made fun of the document, but the program seems to have pointed out that the priests were incompetent to give advice on driving and that Vatican was too tiny a place to give any resident adequate driving experiences. I never imagined there were countries where making "fun of a Vatican document" was punishable! Read the story here.

The so-called "Ten Commandments for Drivers" that landed the Slovakian TV station into trouble is included in the lengthy DOCUMENT OF THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE PASTORAL CARE OF MIGRANTS AND ITINERANT PEOPLE: "GUIDELINES FOR THE PASTORAL CARE OF THE ROAD," dated 19.06.2007. The relevant section, 61, of the document is as follows:
[start quote]

61. In any case, with the request for motorists to exercise virtue, we have drawn up a special “decalogue” for them, in analogy with the Lord’s Ten Commandments. These are stated here below, as indications, considering that they may also be formulated differently.

I. You shall not kill.
II. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.
III. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.
IV. Be charitable and help your neighbour in need, especially victims of accidents.
V. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.
VI. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.
VII. Support the families of accident victims.
VIII. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.
IX. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.
X. Feel responsible towards others.

[end quote]

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jesuits in Rome: Looking for a Leader

Fr. Sumita and Fr. Kolvenbach
Fr. Sumita, the Japanese Provincial, and Fr. Kolvenbach, the General, during the latter's visit to Sophia University in 2005

Two hundred and twenty-five Jesuit representatives or delegates from around the world are currently gathered in Rome for the historical 35th General Congregation (GC 35) of the Society of Jesus. Some of these are representatives elected by their peers, but many are regional officials of the Order. Their average age is around 56. There are 75 delegates from Europe, 43 from South Asia. 40 from Latin America, 30 from North America, 18 from Africa, and 19 from East Asia and Oceania.

This particular Congregation, GC 35, is unique because for the first time in the history of the Jesuits, the incumbent General will solemnly resign and let another man take charge. The Jesuits have always had their General serve until his death, but in recent times they have considered allowing him to retire after a certain age. When the previous General, Pedro Arrupe, wanted to retire, he was stopped from doing so, but later on an incapacitating stroke and the Papal intervention gave him a providential break to get his wish. For all we know, the current General, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, is in good health despite being close to 80 and seems capable of governing for several more years. Sensing the signs of the times, however, he has proposed stepping down in favor of a younger man, and the Pope has approved his plan.

The election of a new General will be the first task of the assembling delegates. There are speculations about the 'Generabili' as there are, after a Pope's death, about the 'Papabili'. A recent issue of the Catholic magazine Tablet gives the names of Fr. Lisbert D'Souza and Fr. Devados, both Indians, and Fr. Mark Raper, an Australian, as potential candidates. Several others, especially Fr. Mark Rotsaert of Holland and Fr. Elias Royon of Spain, too are often mentioned. Whoever is elected, however, must be approved by the Pope first, before his name is released to the public. Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, a former Provincial of Japan and the current President of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia, has also been rumored to be a candidate, but as he is past 70, he may be considered too old.

There are two delegates from Japan: Fr. Shogo Sumita, the Provincial of Japan, and Fr. Renzo de Luca, until recently the head of the 26 Martyrs' Shrine, in Nagasaki. Both are graduates of Sophia University, Tokyo.

The Congregation was convened nearly two years ago, on Feb 2, 2006, by Fr. Kolvenbach, the incumbent General. A preparatory commission, with 14 members, was set up in February 2007. The delegates have been arriving in Rome since early January 2008, and the Congregation officially opened on January 7, 2008, with a solemn Mass at 4:30 PM. The delegates are expected to engage in 'murmuratio' for a few days before the election day so that they get to know each other and make up for themselves whom to vote. No canvassing for votes or promotion of self is permitted, and a specially set-up committee has been entrusted with the task of spotting anyone who fails to toe the line.

There is no time limit for how long the GC will take place; it is up to the members to fix their own schedule. Usually, though, it lasts less than two months. In modern times, GC 31 was the exceptional one, as it lasted for 141 days and held twice, once in 1965 and again in 1966.

In GC 35, electronic gadgets are expected to be used much. Public voting will all be done electronically, and simultaneous translation will be available. A professional Jesuit photographer will be the official photographer. The primary languages used at the Congregation will be English, French, Italian, & Spanish.

Whoever is elected, he is sure to face many challenges, like the shortage of vocations, the dwindling number of total strength (from an impressive 36,000 in 1964 to less than 20,000 in 2008), keeping good relations with the Vatican, and so on. The future of institutions like Sophia University too may depend on his leadership!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Jesuits, nuns, and Germaine Greer

In the book There's something about a Convent Girl (Bennet, J., & Forgan, R., eds. London: Virago Press, 1991), Germaine Greer of The Female Eunuch fame writes (p.92): "To be a Catholic is one thing. To be a convent girl is another. You might not even be a very good Catholic because the nuns were dreadfully incompetent at teaching Catholic philosophy. The Jesuits on the other hand are very good at it, and if I'd been taught by Jesuits I'd probably still be a Catholic. But I was taught by nuns and they blew it." I wonder how the Jesuits will take this, coming from none other than a once firebrand feminist. As a compliment? As an insult? Although Greer suggests here that she is no longer a Catholic, elsewhere in the same article she says she is a Catholic--at least when it suits her, as for example, when confronted by a Jehovah's Witness or by a Protestant pastor seeking funds (p.93).

Looks like Greer is writing at least some parts tongue-in-cheek. No doubt, she has got gripes about the Catholic Church, convents, nuns, Catholicism, and the Catholic morality taught by them. On the other hand, she is also very frank in praising the formation she received at a convent school and the gentle and understanding way in which the nuns treated her. Her article is not entirely an attack on religion or the nuns; it is rather a confused set of reflections including both compliments and complaints. She has sentences like (p.93): "I am still a Catholic. I just don't believe in God. I am an atheist Catholic--there's a lot of them around. I don't want to escape from it. I'm very glad to be Catholic." Then there's her last punch (p.95): "I think there's something to be said for nunneries. I'm not sure that there's anything to be said for Catholicism. That's the problem." Even though the book is not about religion or Catholicism, she takes potshots at both almost on every page!

Last year, someone wrote a fake obituary of her, an extract from which follows: "Germaine Greer the author of controversial books was found crushed under a pile of her own articles that had lost balance.... Greer had a habit of adding to the pile even after being advised that there was a serious risk of the owner being infected by the toxins in the ink. A condition sometimes referred to as poison pen or poison letter addiction.... Death was instantaneous but neighbors were only alerted when her articles stopped piling up.... Her controversial style made her a hero to those people who like controversial styles. Her controversial advice was extended to every one from Mother Theresa, to The Australian Male, The Australian Lifestyle, The Crocodile Bloke, and everyone else that she could think of.... Some people believe that Greer had a desire to destroy people so she could remain in the media spotlight."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Copyrighting "Allah"? Ban re-imposed!

According to CNA, the Catholic News Agency,

'A senior government official in Malaysia has ordered a Catholic newspaper to drop the use of the word “Allah” in its Malay language section if it wants its publishing permit renewed, the Associated Press reports.

'The Herald, published by Malaysia’s Catholic Church, has translated the word God as “Allah.” Che Din Yusoff, a senior official at the Internal Security Ministry’s publications control unit, has said this usage is erroneous because “Allah” refers to the Muslim God. "Christians cannot use the word Allah. It is only applicable to Muslims. Allah is only for the Muslim god. This is a design to confuse the Muslim people," Che Din told the Associated Press. Che Din said that the newspaper should use the general term for God, the word “Tuhan.” '

You can read the entire article at Allah is only for Muslims, Malaysian official says.

As a linguist, I found this bit of news quite interesting, for it raises the question of whether we can copyright or protect our religious vocabulary. I have no idea what the arguments involved in this "Allah" usage are, and I have no idea which side is correct. Perhaps, Che Din Yusoff is right in asking Christians not to use "Allah"... Maybe the word "Allah" has connotations like the "Dainichi", which early Japanese Christians unwittingly used to refer to God, and later gave up after realizing that "Dainichi" was not the kind of God that they believed in.

A similar argument can be made as to why Christians may not feel at home with "Brahman", a Hindu word for God. "Brahman" may not be exactly what Christians mean by God the Almighty, for in Hinduism, Brahman is an "It" rather than a He or a She. In other words, the word "Brahman" often appears as an impersonal Almighty, although most Hindus may acknowledge God--perhaps referred to as Ishwar--to be a person as well. Can "God" be translated in all languages with all the adequate theological and dogmatic implications?

The point is, Is Allah the same as what Christians mean by God or what the Hindus mean by Brahman or Ishwar, or what the Japanese mean by Kami? Does Allah mean the one and only supreme God that Jews, Christians, and even most Hindus confess or is Allah the super-duper Islamic god who can beat up all the other gods of other religions?

If "Allah" just means "God", do people like Che Din feel that only Muslims, and no one else, can have any recourse to "God"? Or do they feel that "Allah" is one of the many gods, but the most powerful and the only True God, who can outwit the gods of Hindus, Christians, and others?

A related question: Could the Japanese ask Japanese Christians not to use the word "Kami" because it only refers to the Shinto god or a Buddhist god? Or could Hindus ask Christians to drop the use of "Ishwar" , which Christians currently use to refer to God or to Jesus?

The Malaysian case is pretty intriguing, for the word "Allah" is, presumably, Arabic, and not even Malay--except as a borrowed and incorporated word. So can Malay Muslims claim exclusive rights over a word which is not even theirs linguistically? Perhaps the Arabs can make such demands, though I have not heard of any such demands from Arabs. I wonder whether Christians in Muslim or Arab countries like Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria use the word "Allah" to refer to God. If anyone can enlighten me on that, I'd be grateful.

But even Arabs, can they claim exclusive right to the word "Allah" forbidding others from using it unless they become Muslims? A very interesting question... Linguistically, it seems similar to the "linguistic imperialism" arguments of native English speakers trying to assert their rights over the English language. The scholars of this school would like to see all non-native speakers of English use English exactly as they (the native speakers) do. Unfortunately though, currently nonnative English speakers outnumber native English speakers, and they tend to speak English as they like--ignoring the pressures from native speakers. It is also worth noting that English itself uses a large number of non-Anglo-Saxon or non-English words quite arbitrarily. Does English use all the words it has borrowed from Latin, Spanish, French, Hindi, Tamil, Japanese, Arabic, etc., in precisely the way they are used in the original languages?

Put broadly, can the native speakers of any language dictate how a word of their language should be used by others who don't share their beliefs or prejudices or dogmas?

Anyway, the latest news regarding the "Allah" question is that the Malaysian government 'has reversed its decision to ban the publication over its use of the word "Allah," easing a row that strained racial harmony in the multiethnic country.' Even the concerned Catholic editor, Fr. Andrew, seems to have been taken aback at the 'unconditional' permission he was granted. "There are no conditions, there was no mention of the Allah ban," Fr. Andrew told The Associated Press. Apparently, the security officials declined to comment when contacted. The background is given by the Jakarta Post as follows:
'The ministry had repeatedly warned The Herald [the concerned Catholic Weekly] that its printing permit may be revoked if it continued to use "Allah" as a synonym for God in its Malay-language section. After The Herald refused, it was told in early December that its Malay-language section would be banned from January." Here is the entire article: Malaysia backpedals on Allah ban for Christian paper, renews its permit

Well, the "Allah" news has another twist. As of January 4, 2008, various news reports say that the Malaysian government's ban on the use of "Allah" by other religions still stands! A reversal of a reversal or a misunderstanding, apparently. The Khaleej Times (4 January 2008) reports, "Abdullah Md Zin, a minister for religious affairs, said on Friday the ban on the use of the word remained despite the renewal of the permit [of the Catholic weekly Herald]. 'It was just the priest's interpretation that there was no restriction on the use of the word,' Abdullah told Reuters. This is the latest in a series of disputes that is feeding fears of a gradual erosion of the rights of non-Muslims."