Signs of the Times

Jesuits Elect New Superior General at Rome Gathering

Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania, was elected superior general of the Society of Jesus on Jan. 19. Pope Benedict XVI was informed of the election of Father Nicolás before the Jesuits announced it publicly. Father Nicolás was ordained to the priesthood in Tokyo and is the former Jesuit provincial of Japan. He also served as director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila.

Interviewed in December about his hopes for the work of the 35th General Congregation, Father Nicolás said, “I have a feeling, still imprecise and difficult to define, that there is something important in our religious life that needs attention and is not getting it.” “We have certainly been diligent in addressing our problems whenever we have seen them,” he said, noting the focus of past Jesuit general congregations, “but the uneasiness in the society and in the church has not disappeared.” In the interview with The Province Express, the newsletter of the Australian Jesuits, he said: “The question for us is: Is it enough that we are happy with our life and are improving our service and ministry? Isn’t there also an important factor in the perception of people (‘vox populi’) that should drive us to some deeper reflection on religious life today?” “How come we elicit so much admiration and so little following?” he asked.


The new Jesuit general concluded by telling the newsletter that he hoped the general congregation would begin “a process of dynamic and open reflection on our religious life that might begin a process of re-creation of the society for our times, not only in the quality of our services, but also and mostly in the quality of our personal and community witness to the church and the world.”

Born April 29, 1936, in Palencia, Spain, as the third of four brothers, Father Nicolás attended a Jesuit secondary school and college and entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1953. After earning a degree in philosophy in Spain, he was sent to Japan to study theology. He was ordained a priest in 1967. After higher studies in theology at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he returned to Japan and taught systematic theology at Sophia University in Tokyo. From 1978 to 1984 he was director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute, the influential catechetical and evangelization center in Manila, Philippines. In 1991-93 he was rector of the formation program for Jesuit scholastics in Japan, and in 1993 he was appointed provincial superior for Japan. Before being named moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania in 2004, he spent three years working in a poor immigrant parish in Tokyo, living with and ministering to Filipino and other Asian immigrants. Father Nicolás speaks Spanish, Catalan, Japanese, English, French, Italian and German.

Though he himself called his election “a shock,” the news was greeted with great joy and satisfaction by those who had followed the selection process. Ben Nebres, S.J., president of the Ateneo de Manila University, said: “When I think of him, the feelings that come are of affection and friendship. Father Nico is many things, but he is above all a companion and a friend. He brings the gift of friendship and encouragement like Blessed Peter Favre.” A young Jesuit scholastic, also at the Ateneo de Manila, Isaias Caldas from East Timor, described the excitement among the 70 young Jesuits of the Arrupe International Residence. “I am excited and overjoyed, because this general is someone I know personally. He once told us to let our religious struggles become ‘big’ [broad in apostolic horizons] not limited only to our worries.”

C. M. Paul, S.D.B., writing from Kolkata in the Indian journal of the Salesians of Don Bosco, recalled that many Japanese Salesians were taught by Father Nicolás at Sophia University in Tokyo. For some he was the thesis moderator; for others he was spiritual director. “He used his theological expertise,” said Father Paul, “for the catechetical education of migrants and their children and he wrote books in multilingual editions published by the Salesian publishers Don Bosco Sha. During this time, some young Salesians were working with him for the Japanese-Filipino Youth Program. He was the resource person for the program and he always showed his support for the Salesian way of educating youth. He always used to say ‘Let us trust in the Salesians, for they know youth very well.’ One former student described him as Jinkaku-sha (a man of character), which is a compliment showing the highest admiration in Japan. So now his former students will say to him in return, ‘Let us trust in Father Nicolás, for he knows human reality very well.’”

Turkish Bishops Mark Pauline Year

Turkey’s Catholic bishops marked the 2,000th anniversary year of the birth of St. Paul in the southern Turkish city of Tarsus and outlined preparations for the Pauline year. “This event is for all Christian communities, since Paul is a teacher for all the disciples of Christ. However, the anniversary is of particular importance for us living in Turkey—the Apostle of the Gentiles is a son of this land, and it is here he exercised most of his ministry,” said a letter from the bishops’ assembly, which includes bishops of Turkey’s Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean and Latin-rite churches. “We are immersed in a Muslim world, where faith in God is still very present, both in its traditional aspects and in the assertion of new Islamic religious organizations,” said the letter, which was to be read in Catholic churches Jan. 25, the date on which St. Paul’s conversion is remembered in the liturgy. Pope Benedict XVI designated the year 2008-9 as a special Pauline year marking the anniversary of the saint’s birth. The pope said the celebrations should have a special ecumenical character. Bishop Luigi Padovese, apostolic administrator of Anatolia, said that the anniversary would begin formally on June 21-22 and include a Mass in Tarsus celebrated by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

India’s Christmas Nightmare

As the vicar of St. Peter’s Church in Pobingia was supervising his parishioners as they made decorations Christmas Eve, he received an urgent call from the parish priest less than 15 miles away in Phulbani, warning him that Hindu mobs were attacking churches. Father Prasanna Singh, the vicar, considered what to do next. Police, ordered by the government to guard the church, fled when they heard 600 Hindus approaching and shouting anti-Christian slogans. Other police officers stood by and watched. As the priest fled through the backyard, the mob—armed with swords, axes, crowbars and spears—broke the gates and destroyed the church. “See, this is not the result of an earthquake,” Father Singh said on Jan. 5, pointing to the destruction around the church. The days of violence in India’s Orissa state began with Hindus destroying Christmas decorations at the local market. In retaliation, Christians burned Hindu shops and houses, followed by widespread violence over 600 square miles during four days.

Five Catholic churches, 48 village chapels, two seminaries, half a dozen hostels and four convents were destroyed. Dozens of Hindu homes and hundreds of Christian homes were burned and looted in the Kandhamal district.

New Vatican Photo Resource

Scholars, history buffs and the public at large will now be able to peek inside some of the Vatican’s collection of historical black-and-white photographs. The photo captions and photographers’ notes for the Giordani Collection of the Vatican photo service have been transcribed into a searchable text file (nearly 375 pages) that can be obtained free of charge by sending e-mail to Buyers can place orders for specific photos by sending a request by e-mail to the same address specifying the photo caption and the corresponding number. Some half-million images, mostly black-and-white, taken between 1933 and 1975, will now be more conveniently accessible to the public for research and sale.

This new electronic file is a modest but significant start to the Vatican photo service’s long-term plans for updating and improving its collections. The collection is named for Francesco Giordani, a private, Rome-based photographer the Vatican commissioned starting in the 1930s.

Hong Kong Cardinal Prays for Direct Elections

About 200 lay Christians and members of the clergy—including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong—attended a prayer rally before joining thousands protesting the central government’s decision not to allow direct elections for Hong Kong officials in 2012. Cardinal Zen told participants in the prayer rally on Jan. 13 that he “regretted and was angry” that the Chinese government in Beijing ignored the aspirations of Hong Kong residents, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. The cardinal also said he doubted that the elections for chief executive in 2017 and all members of the Legislative Council in 2020 would be conducted in a truly democratic manner. “We hope for respect and dialogue. We will hold on to our stance [for universal suffrage in 2012] right to the end and believe in the power of prayer,” he added. The Civil Human Rights Front and pro-democracy legislators called the rally to protest a decision by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress ruling out universal suffrage in the 2012 elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive and legislators.

Cardinal McCarrick Sees Gaza Sadness

U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick said meeting with young people from a parish in the Gaza Strip during a pastoral visit there left him feeling sad. “It is a sad place with a lot of unhappiness and frustration,” said Cardinal McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington. The youths he met at Holy Family Parish in Gaza had just completed their university studies and were unable to find work, he said. “They can’t get started on their lives,” the cardinal said Jan. 11 at the conclusion of a weeklong visit to the area. He said that “as long as Hamas stands for the destruction of Israel, we can’t move forward.” Christians in Gaza have expressed a growing concern for their safety since Hamas, an Islamic extremist political and military movement, took over Gaza last year. Since then, attacks on Christian institutions have increased, and the owner of a Christian bookstore was murdered by what were believed to be Islamic extremists.

Honoring Mother Lange for Black History Month

More than 30 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange fought to establish the first religious order for black women and the first black Catholic school in the United States. To honor the 126th anniversary of their founder’s death, the Oblate Sisters of Providence have planned a Mass of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on Feb. 3 by Cardinal William H. Keeler, the retired archbishop of Baltimore, in Our Lady of Mount Providence Convent Chapel in Catonsville, Md. Sister M. Virginie Fish of the Oblate Sisters said the sisters see honoring Mother Lange as a fitting way to begin National Black History Month, which is observed every February. “For so long, no one ever heard of Mother Lange, but now she is getting her just due,” said Sister John Francis Schilling, president of St. Frances Academy, the school founded by Mother Lange. “She was someone who saw the need for things before others did and took the risks to make them happen.”

Phoenix Parishes to Become Nonprofits

The Phoenix Diocese is undertaking a comprehensive restructuring process so that its civil organization matches the one already in place canonically. Currently, the diocese is a corporation sole, a legal entity consisting of a single incorporated office, occupied by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. Through July 1, church leaders will be preparing each individual parish to become a separate, nonprofit corporation. Little will change in day-to-day parish operations, according to diocesan officials. “While this is a civil restructuring, we cannot forget who we are as church,” said the Rev. Fred Adamson, vicar general and moderator of the diocesan curia. “The way the church structures itself provides a great deal of autonomy at the parish level to minister to the local needs of the people of God.” Under the current civil structure, Bishop Olmsted is listed as the property owner of all parish assets in trust for the given parish. But in actual practice, as prescribed by canon law, the pastor makes almost all decisions at the parish level.

Liturgical Development in Continuity

Pope Benedict XVI has no intention of launching a liturgical “return to the past” but would like to recover some important elements that have been lost or forgotten in recent decades, the Vatican’s liturgist said. Msgr. Guido Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies, was asked during an interview with Vatican Radio on Jan. 19 about fears that the pope wants to abandon the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council. “These are certainly incorrect inferences and interpretations,” Monsignor Marini said. The path of Catholic liturgy is “development in continuity,” in which change never loses touch with the church’s living traditions, he said. “This may also require, in some cases, the recovery of precious and important elements that along the way have been lost or forgotten,” he said. On Jan. 13 the pope celebrated a Mass in the Sistine Chapel using the original main altar, so he faced away from the people during parts of the liturgy. Since Vatican II, Mass usually is celebrated facing the people. Monsignor Marini said the change in direction reflected the special artistic circumstances of the Sistine Chapel and was not out of line with Vatican II reforms.

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