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    Vol. XIX, No. 17 October 20, 2015

    FATHER GENERAL


     

    Interview with Father General Adolfo Nicolás

    The Intellectual Apostolate

    12 September 2015

     

    On September 12, 2015, Father General Adolfo Nicolás spoke to Father John Dardis, president of the European Jesuit Conference on the topic of the Intellectual Apostolate.

     

    Father Dardis:

    Father General thank you for giving us the time. The vision for our faculties of philosophy and theology, our universities, our cultural reviews, and similar missions: what does the church expect of us in that area?

     

    Father General:

    We should think about what God wants us to do in the universities, rather than what the bishops or the church, in the abstract, expect from us. It is this kind of discernment that is eventually going to help the church. Sometimes, the bishops think that things are fine if Jesuits are present in the university, and while there, they also do some pastoral work. But we are not happy with that. I think that the university is a social institution, as is clearly the evident in Latin America. It follows that the university, as a social institution, has a function towards society, and this is the justification why we are involved in the university apostolate at all. Through the university, we want to help a particular society in its values, in its perspectives, in its vision of what is the good for the people. Therefore, if we are in a university, we should always ask ourselves whether we are engaged in this social function. And then, we should test and check how we are performing it, sometimes through the alumni, sometimes by looking at the results of our education, and sometimes by examining where our students end up. If we are not performing a social function, then we should think about working somewhere else.

     

    Father Dardis:

    Picking up on that social function issue, we have a big commitment to philosophy and theology, but what about the whole area of politics, economics, sociology; have you any message for the provincials and major superiors on that issue?

     

    Father General:

    Even in the past, the ideal has always been to be present where human problems are present. And it is clear today that the problems of humanity are not theological or philosophical ones. Therefore, we have to prepare people who can be present, intelligently present, in the areas on work: the areas of politics, economics, sociology, anthropology, etc. Therefore, I think our institutions have to make an effort to either prepare Jesuits or to develop a much greater collaboration and cooperation with the laity. Only in this way can we have the right anthropologist, or the right sociologist, or the right economist in the right place. Not anybody, simply because they have a big name, but the right person.

     

    Father Dardis:

    And what about influence on politicians, opinion leaders, journalists. Again, we have this great resource in our faculties; philosophy, theology, university, etc. Do you think we are ambitious enough to reach people who really can influence out societies?

     

    Father General:

    I think there is a fear in the Society towards politics. We are so afraid to get mixed up in politics, we are even afraid of politicians. And politicians are people like you and me. Why can we not invite them to dialogue, to rethink the vision they have of their political duties? And I think the university is the best place to invite politicians for deeper dialogue, particularly at a time when the political standards in the whole world are falling little by little. We have politicians now who are very concerned about political support, about the next election and so forth, and they do very little for the people, which is supposed to be the main task of a politician. A friend of mine suggested, and I put him in contact with Father Michael Garanzini [Secretary for Higher Education in the Society of Jesus], that we should have fora, that Jesuit universities in particular should be places where politicians can come and talk. And eventually, maybe after a couple of years, those conversations could develop into some kind of institute, still modest, but with a clear social function. And such an institute could develop further, according to what history or what the talents of our people unfold.

     

    Father Dardis:

    In the last couple of years, you have been a fan of E-Learning, and I think you took one or two online courses. Obviously E-Learning is a very, if you like, popular thing at the moment. It is way of networking universities and third level institutes. Do you have any comments or suggestions about E-Learning, that whole area of E-Learning?

     

    Father General:

    First, my interest in E-Learning was somewhat marginal. I did not take those courses because I wanted to develop E-Learning, but more because of a personal interest. One course was on justice, another course was on globalization. And what did I learn? I learned a lot about the content of the topic itself, but I learnt most about pedagogy, the way professors handled their audience. The first course, whose title was Justice, was really a course on the philosophy of politics - political philosophy. But the professor managed to have the audience that was huge. He had more than a thousand students. And he has had such a cohort for 30 years. In addition, he managed to have the students interact. And that was a great learning experience for me. We are used to lectures, but here reflection was going on through the class, and it was communicated by e-means. I learnt a lot about that, and I think we could also do that. Why can we not develop courses through e-learning in which we could have the best theologians or the best philosophers or the best whatever, in the world, and offer their courses on CD's?

     

    The agreement that Harvard and MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] concluded in Boston was precisely, according to one of the presidents, an effort to educate whoever has a computer. Therefore, it's not question of gaining prestige or of making more money, but of spreading what we have received to more and more people. I think that this development could give access to learning to so many people: it would be worth our effort.

     

    Father Dardis:

    Just moving on to Ignatian Spirituality: a couple of years ago you put the emphasis on this; you said that it was a big concern. You had a concern about Jesuits being formed in this area. What is your sense of that now?

     

    Father General:

    My sense would be that we have to overcome what still presently applies. At present, we have a little spirituality in the novitiate, and then we forget about it until tertianship: it should not be like this. Therefore, if we want Jesuits, 100 percent Jesuits, we have to plan so that through the years our men are given access to the spirituality sources that we have. A professor of philosophy in the United States told me, "I am doing what you Jesuits should be doing." He uses Saint Ignatius in his classes of philosophy for hermeneutics, because very few authors have the Exercises (which shows how to go about something), and then an Autobiography (which shows how he did it), and then so many letters to others (which shows how they should do it), and finally the Constitutions (which is how a body incarnates it). In other words, we have in Saint Ignatius sources that we are not exploiting, we are not using, and they could be of great help.

     

    But the main thing is that our scholastics should be put in contact with these sources throughout their years of study, not only at the beginning and at the end.

     

    Father Dardis:

    Just finally turning to the Roman Houses, it is obviously a big concern of yours; it is a mission from the Holy Father. Europe has traditionally given so many people to the Roman Houses and it is continuing to do that. Numbers are going down in Europe, how do you feel about that? Are other parts of the world in a position to help more?

     

    Father General:

    I think the present practice of pooling all the well-known professors of Europe is unsustainable. As you say, the numbers are going down. Actually, in the three institutions that we run in Rome, we have an increasing number of Latin Americans, Africans, and people from other parts of the world, more than we have ever had before. That indicates that the sources of wisdom are not limited to Europe, thank God. There are many other sources of reflection, as well as people with great degrees and great intelligence who can give life to these institutions. At the same time, I think, we have to start thinking about what is going to be the best service to the church in the future. And maybe we will think of a network of institutions, not necessarily run by us. But, at least these institutions that the popes have entrusted to the Society have to be manned by whatever resources we have, and the resources are not only in Europe. Therefore, we have to look beyond Europe.

     

    Father Dardis:

    Thank you very much Father General for your time; any final word or message you want to give to the provincials and major superiors?

     

    Father General:

    Yes, continue thinking because this is where we are going to encounter God, and where we are going to encounter wisdom. Recently, I have been fascinated by wisdom, which is why I think we have to look for any kind of wisdom. Right now, I am reading a recent book by Father [Paul] Valadier, the former director of Études. It is about Wisdom and Politics - Religion and Politics, and he focuses on the search for wisdom: and I like that. But there is something which he mentions only in passing: we also need the wisdom of Asia, the wisdom of Africa, the wisdom of Latin America. That is why we need to keep searching, and searching, and searching.