The new Jesuit superior general, Adolfo Nicolas, has told Vatican journalists he believes there is much Asia can teach the rest of the church.
Now nearly 72, Nicolas arrived in Japan aged 24 to undertake theological studies.
‘Asia has been a challenge, a real challenge in many ways,’ he told the 65 journalists who agreed to attend an audience without questions. He explained that this format was important because the superior general is subject to the general congregation of representatives of Jesuit provinces around the world which is expected to meet until Easter. He must wait until the congregation tells him of their wishes.
He said his studies led him to reformulating faith itself, in the context of Vatican II but also in the context of Asia, of Japan ‘where Buddhism and Shintoism and other religions have had a profound influence’.
He believes Asia has changed him, leading him to accept what is different and to try to understand why and how he can learn from it.
‘And then it has taught me to smile at the difficulties, at human imperfection, the human reality.’
He described himself as being ‘a little intolerant’ when living in Spain ‘because I thought of religion as fidelity to religious practices.’
In Japan he learned ‘that one must go to the heart of things, to the depths of our humanity whether we are speaking of God, or of ourselves and of human life.’
Imperfections are so natural, he said, one must accept them from the start. The Japanese are scandalised that ‘we are so strict, intolerant, and incapable of accepting diversity’.
‘Because of this I believe that Asia can enrich the universal church a great deal.’
Buddhism had changed a great deal throughout Asia finding a way of entering deeply ‘so that Zen took on Japanese citizenship’. Everyting was questioned intensely.
‘We can all learn from this world, maintaining our own calm while facing the other as given to us.’
Nicolas highlighted the diversity in China with more than 27 ethnic groups in the south. Korea and Vietnam were also greatly diverse and the Philippines was known as ‘the Italy of Asia’ because of their sense of humour and of life, where traffic laws are not laws but recommendations.
He pointed to Australia’s usefulness in its mission of linking Asia with the West. Missions in Burma, East Timor and Cambodia were new, Nicolas said, because Jesuits had been expelled by the military.
Nicolas told the journalists it was not useful to seek ‘a theological difference’ between himself and the pope.
He had studied ‘the great teacher’ Professor Ratzinger’s books because ‘they had creativity and inspiration which we all appreciated at that time’. The difference was in people’s imaginations, he chided journalists.
‘What is most important is the search for the truth, inspired in the word of God, in the life of the church, in the life of Christians. In this dialogue one might perhaps find differences in some matters but always part of the mutual search for the truth.’