Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, Sj
He slipped into the night quietly. His funeral was as simple, just like that of any Jesuit.
Fr. Adolfo Nicolás SJ, the 30th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, returned back to the Father on May 20, 2020 at 5:47 p.m., after a lingering illness. His funeral was held in St. Ignatius Church on May 23 at 5 p.m. Only some of his Jesuit brothers were in attendance, as the corona virus preventive measures were still in effect in Tokyo. The main celebrant was Fr. Renzo de Luca, Provincial Superior of Japan. It was live-streamed on YouTube, a great consolation to thousands of people all over the world who wanted to “see him off” on his last passage—people whose lives he had touched through his person, leadership, and testimony as a “Companion of Jesus.” What made the liturgy extraordinary was that the homily was delivered on video from Rome by Fr. Arturo Sosa, the present Superior General.
Fr. Nicolás came to Japan in 1961. He did his theological studies as a young Jesuit in Tokyo, where he was ordained a priest in 1967. He later became a professor of Sophia University, worked zealously in the migrant apostolate in the Tokyo Archdiocese, and was appointed Provincial of Japan from 1993 to 1999. He was elected Superior General of the Society in 2008 and served until 2016, when his health no longer allowed him to carry out his mission. His last community was in Kamishakuji, where from 2018 he spent his last years. Our memory of him was “he was just one of us.” Though already in a wheelchair and limited in speech, he always greeted us, sisters and lay, with twinkling eyes and a shy smile, as he passed by our aisle after the early morning Mass.
What kind of man was he? “Fr. Nicolás gave of himself throughout his life. It was a life marked by intense service, calm availability, and a deep ability to inculturate into Japan. It was a culture he loved dearly and to which he committed himself,” wrote Fr. Arturo Sosa. His time as Superior General was marked “by his sense of humor, his courage, his humility, and his close relationship with Pope Francis.”
Fr. Nicolás never really got directly involved with St. Ignatius Church. One Japanese said, “We did not have direct contact with him, but every time he passed by, he had a big smile on his face that exuded warmth. Everybody knew him as the BIG FATHER. He would come to celebrate Mass on special occasions, and his homilies were intelligent, scholarly, spiritual, and with an international view.” Yes, his leadership was directed toward a more universal view and greater lay involvement for the Church in Japan.
Wrote Fr. Sosa: “The best way to remember Father Adolfo Nicolás may be with a brief prayer, written in his own hand, which arose from his personal meditation on the miraculous catch of fish narrated by Saint John in chapter 21. It is an excellent synthesis of his person and of his spirituality.” This prayer was shared during communion time at his funeral Mass.
Lord Jesus, what weaknesses did you see in us that made you decide to call us, in spite of everything, to collaborate in your mission? We give you thanks for having called us, and we beg you not to forget your promise to be with us to the end of time. Frequently we are invaded by the feeling of having worked all night in vain, forgetting, perhaps, that you are with us. We ask that you make yourself present in our lives and in our work, today, tomorrow, and in the future yet to come. Fill with your love these lives of ours, which we put at your service. Take from our hearts the egoism of thinking about what is “ours,” what is “mine,” always excluding, lacking compassion and joy. Enlighten our minds and our hearts, and do not forget to make us smile when things do not go as we wished. At the end of the day, of each one of our days, make us feel more united with you and better able to perceive and discover around us greater joy and greater hope. We ask all this from our reality. We are weak and sinful men, but we are your friends. Amen.
This prayer, according to Fr. Sosa, “reveals the true Adolfo: a wise, humble, and free man; totally and generously given to service; moved by those who suffer in the world, but at the same time overflowing with hope drawn from his faith in the Risen Lord; an excellent friend, who loved to laugh and to make others laugh; a man of the Gospel. It is a blessing to have known him. As we pray for his eternal happiness with the Lord, whom he served so well, we ask to be able ourselves to continue serving the mission as he did, with goodness, generosity, and joy.”
By Sr. Flor M. Florece, F.I.