Elvis Presley, S.J.?

January 25, 2008

New Jesuit Superior General Fr. Alfonso Nicolas, S.J., 25 Jan. 2008/Dario PignatelliFather Adolfo Nicolas, the new superior general of the Jesuit order of Catholic priests, possesses, besides decades of experience, a good sense of humour. At his first meeting with reporters since his election on Jan 19, the 71-year-old Spaniard spoke about his life, his formation in Asia and what he had been reading about himself in the media.

I’ve read that I am 50 percent Kolvenbach and 50 percent Arrupe,” he said, referring to his two immediate predecessors, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach and Pedro Arrupe. “However, no one has yet said I’m 10 percent Elvis Presley, although one could say this and it wouldn’t surprise me. But I think this is all false.”

After the laughter died down, the soft-spoken Spaniard became a bit serious: “I am not Kolvenbach and I am not Arrupe. I am made for the reality in which I find myself.”

Outgoing Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans KolvenbachEven religious media have had a hard time defining him after his election to lead the Roman Catholic Church’s largest clerical order. “I am an unknown,” said Nicolas, who has spent much of his life in Asia. “So this has been like a treasure hunt (for the media). ”

Jesuit superiors general are known as “black popes” because, like the pontiff, they wield worldwide influence and usually keep their position for life — and their simple cassock is black, in contrast to the pope’s white.

He dismissed media reports that there was a “theological gap” between himself and the Pope. “That is not true,” he said, calling him “a great professor” whose work he had studied while in Japan. “Theology is a dialogue …sometimes there are differences.

Nicolas spoke much about how Asia had taught him tolerance. “The way of seeing faith in Asia is totally different from the way we see it here. Asia changed me, I hope for the best … Asia can do much to enrich the universal Church.

Sensoji Temple Pagoda in Tokyo, 2 Oct. 2003In Japan, I discovered that true religiosity is much deeper, that you must go to the heart of the person, the heart of the question when we speak of God, just as when we speak of ourselves or of human life. This taught me to smile in the face of things that in Spain would have upset me. But human life is like this, people are like this. Imperfection is so natural that one must accept it and not look for people who are perfect … It scandalises the Japanese that we are so strict, intolerant, so unaccepting of diversity.”

Then, at the end of the meeting, his sense of humour returned. He said one of the most interesting places in Asia is the Philippines and noted some similarities between the Filipino and Italian characters. “Like Italians, the Filipinos see traffic laws not as laws but as suggestions.”

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