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Vol. XIII, N. 15 September 1, 2009
Interview with Father General. During the month of July, as mentioned in previous editions of the S.J. Electronic Information Service, Father General made two important trips. In Asia he visited the Philippines, (the occasion was the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the return of the Jesuits to the country), and Indonesia, for the 150th anniversary of the "modern" presence of the Society of Jesus in that nation. In Africa, he visited Burundi (the occasion was the International Congress of Jesuit Alumni/ae), Rwanda and Bukavu region, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After these trips, Father Nicolás agreed to share with us some of his impressions. We present here his responses to our questions.
- The trip to Philippines has been for you a "returning home." What was your impression?
"You are very right that going back to the Philippines is like going home. What never fails to amaze me and make me feel immediately "at home" is the warmth and the always generous welcome of the Filipino people. It felt like I hade never left the country and that the old friendships had multiplied and intensified. Filipinos have this quality (or talent, or charisma, as you like to call it) in relating to people. It takes so little to be "one of them"; maybe sincere appreciation of their persons, life and culture, and that respect you owe to every person. In exchange they give you everything they are and they make a home in their hearts. I am always deeply touched by this generosity of heart, and the graciousness with which they do it in such a way that you are never embarrassed."
- The occasion for the trip to the Philippines, which is practically the only Catholic Asian country, has been the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the return of the Jesuits to the country. Which has been the major contribution of the Society during this century and a half? And what about today?
"I think the contribution has been enormous, and I am aware I do not know half of it. The Society of Jesus has contributed to science, to literature, to research in many areas of human life and knowledge, to art, to music, you name it. If you ask me to underline one particular contribution that stands out, I would say that "Education" has been the greatest contribution, and it continues to be, with the cooperation of many dedicated and highly motivated lay persons and Religious of different Congregations. Naturally we are not the only educators; others were there before we arrived, still others came at the same time or later and have done equally well and contributed likewise, or even more to the Country. But Jesuit Education has been outstanding, of long range influence and continues to be such. The Society of Jesus in the Philippines has always been at the forefront of Social and Church issues in the country. These 150 years give us much material to thank the Lord for. I know that behind the contribution of the Society to the Philippines there are many lay and religious people who have sustained and supported us, as usual. We all know that behind every successful service, there are thousands of little deaths of Jesuits and others, who have given their lives in silence, praying and helping, serving and rejoicing in the fruit that they never harvested. With the words of Saint Paul we can literally say that along the 150 years, some Jesuits prepared the ground, some sowed, some watered, some harvested. It is a time of deep joy and thanksgiving to all those whose names are not in the official chronicle, but who made it possible for the Society to make its joyful contribution."
- In Indonesia also the Jesuits have celebrated the 150th anniversary of their presence in a country that is in majority Muslim. In this context which is the role of the Society today and which role can it play in the future?
"Indonesia is a country with a long history of cultural and religious diversity. There are still parts of Indonesia where Hinduism is alive; parts where old Natural or Cosmic religions continue to have an influence in the life, religiosity and even Festivals of the people; whole Provinces with a strong Christian influence and a very vital community of Catholic or other Christian denominations. The cultural diversity and long term policies of tolerance and peaceful, cooperative co-existence make the exchange and communication with the Moslem population a reality without great difficulties - except when political interests or pseudo-religious motivations raise the level of tension and diffidence across the different groups. The Jesuits have been positively involved in dialogue with different Moslem groups and have worked side by side with them in social issues, at the service of the Conference of Bishops and in local initiatives. This role will continue and we hope that the cultural, more tolerant, South-Asian context will help in making dialogue a daily reality and offer new models of cooperation and communication with other Religions for the rest of the world."
- Let's talk about Africa. This was your second trip in this continent. Can you give us a glance at your general impression?
"My impressions are still very incomplete. For me Africa is still Africa, as a whole, as a Continent. I hope that, as I get to know different African countries better, I will also differentiate better and be a better observer of differences, backgrounds, cultural traditions and human realities. From this still tentative platform of my great ignorance and lack of differentiation, I see a Sub-Saharan Africa (the only part I have ever visited) full of magnificent people struggling with their past and present; eager to live and to grow; with a very high appreciation of education and development, and with big dreams for a better and much more hopeful future. The vitality and desire to live is very high, in clear contrast to other regions of the world where this desire is not so visible and where relationships are not nearly as important. Africa gives me hope and it is with great pleasure that I visit and encounter its many different peoples."
- This time you visited three countries still very "hot" at the heart of the African continent. Which role can the Society play for reconciliation, peace and the start of a better future?
"You are right. I have come in contact with "hot" situations, even if I cannot yet define them accurately. I see an option for the future, for life and for peace. And the issues are so important and so vast that no single group can claim to be the protagonist of their solution. Peace, reconciliation, the creation of a better future are the tasks of the whole people and all the forces available, from politics to education and civic movements. I sincerely hope that the Jesuits will be positively and creatively involved in these processes, and exercise a positive influence in them through whatever we do, be it education, pastoral ministry or cultural expression. We will need to be fully committed to the important issues of the people and offer our best services with great humility and generosity in cooperation with all others."
- In Africa the occasion was the International Congress of Jesuit Alumni/ae. What role may the Alumni/ae, and lay in general, have in our current apostolic commitment in the world and especially in Africa?
"I would like to think that the wonderful atmosphere that I saw and felt at the International Congress is a true expression of what our Alumni feel is their role towards Africa and society in general. The Alumni of Jesuit Schools are not people from other planets. They are - I am sure - people totally immersed in the affairs of today and with a deep sense of responsibility to contribute to make our world a little better, more just, more liveable, more fraternal and sharing, with a special concern with those who have greatest difficulties. It already is a general experience to find many alumni who are very generous and even eager to help us in our work and our mission. The point of this Congress was that this solidarity and concern for a better world for all should go beyond the "Alma Mater", beyond the School where one has been educated to reach out to the whole world. If globalization has made all of us more aware of how much we are linked to each other and how much our systems are co-dependent in a world network; if we Jesuits today have become more keenly aware of our universal vocation; there is no wonder that this universal sense touches also our Alumni, and that their hearts and minds, educated in "concern for others" and other Christian values, should also change the direction of their cooperation and sense of responsibility making them aware of a wider world of concerns, peoples and open co-responsibility. Our former students are in the forefront of business, politics or research. I am confident that they will bring the concerns of the world, and particularly the concerns of Africa, into the activities, services and planning of their work and social position."
The feast of St. Ignatius. On July 31st, feast of St. Ignatius, like every year Father General celebrated the Eucharist in the Gesù Church for the Roman Jesuits and friends and benefactors. We offer here a brief summary of his homily, as it was released by Vatican Radio.
"We need the change. We need others to remember what has been forgotten": with these words Father Adolfo Nicolás explained, during the homily given at the Eucharistic celebration in honor of St. Ignatius, what is going on in the Society of Jesus, in which vocations show themselves today in geographical areas different from the past. The future of the Society of Jesus has the face of Asia and Africa. And to this change, which regards the whole Church, born in Middle East and grown in Europe, Father Nicolás looks with optimism: "This demographical change is not only a sociological phenomenon. I think it is a great opportunity for renewal for all of us, the opportunity to return to the origins. Asia and Africa will bring us back to dimensions of humanity, spirituality, ministry and service that in Europe maybe we have lost.
Fr. General's experiences during his recent trips and in particular the witnesses of faith that he saw, encourage his confident attitude about the changes in sees in the Society. These are his reflections on Rwanda, a country teared to pieces by genocide, which received him with joyful dances and songs: "Saint Augustin said: when you sing you pray twice. So I ask myself: how many times they pray, these Africans who dance and sing their sorrow, who dance their hope, their joy and their fears? All this becomes dance. So they choose life. And we also will live with Africa, because the future of the Church is Africa". So we have to give up the fear which attacks us in front of the change - Father Nicolás continued - and not be afraid for our identity that goes far beyond the geographical origin: "The Gospel says to us that this is not a threat, it is a new call. What will keep us together, what will keep us faithful to our vocation, are the central points of St. Ignatius spirituality and today's Gospel remember us a central point: we have to die to ourselves to find Christ. Christ has to be what is really worth, let Him be the central point of our identity."
- The Holy Father has named Fr. Gontrand Décoste bishop of Jérémie, in Haiti. Fr. Décoste was born in 1957; in 1978 he entered the major seminary in Notre-Dame of Haiti, in Port-au-Prince, and was ordained a priest in 1984 for the diocese of Les Cayes. In 1998 he joined the Society of Jesus, and finished his studies in the United States and France. Returned in Haiti he has been spiritual director and theology professor in the major seminary in Port-au-Prince, and secretary of the local Episcopal Conference. At the present time he was also responsible for communication for Haiti.