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