Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Flying High

Tomorrow we’re going to the Sydney Jesuits’ beach house in a place called Gerroa (Jer-row-uh), which is about three hours (130 km) south of here. I understand it’s pretty much right on the beach. Wow!

The beach at Gerroa, it turns out, is famous in Australia for being the location from which aviator Charles Kingsford-Smith (right; and that’s Sir Kingsford-Smith to you) took off on September 11th, 1928 to fly the first flight across the Tasman Sea (about 2000 kms) to New Zealand. Apparently the beach at Gerroa is not only very flat but very long – it’s called 7 Mile Beach -- so it made a perfect location for Kingsford-Smith’s take off. And talk about taking the red eye: On September 28th he took off very early, 2:30am. Flares lit up the proposed runway and car lights from the couple thousand people who came down from Sydney to watch the departure were used to add light. When he and his relief pilot, Charles Ulm, arrived 14 + hours later in their plane, a Fokker monoplane called “The Southern Cross”, 35000 people were there to greet them.

If you’re interested in aviation history, Kingsford-Smith was apparently one of the great pilots of the early days of flight. In 1928 he made the first non-stop flight across the continent of Australia (a distance of 3200 kms, from Point Cook to Perth) and in 1934 (at age 31) he, Ulm and two others made the first ever west to east (Oakland to Brisbane) crossing of the Pacific (a distance of just about 12000 kms). It took 83+ flying hours, including one leg which took over 30 hours by itself, and when it was done he received a telegram of congratulations from President Herbert Hoover.

Kingsford-Smith also flew around the world, and held more long distance flying records than anyone before him. In 1933, after again breaking the record for solo flight form England to Australia, he was named the world’s greatest pilot. Until 1997 his face was on the Australian 20 dollar bill, and today Sydney’s airport is named after him.

He also was apparently a big hit with celebrity look-alikes.

Tell me that guy on the left is not Harry Connick, Jr.

And isn't that Kingston-Smith below with a younger James Gandolfini?
Or is it F. Murray Abraham?

The man himself seemed to have his Roy (“Jaws”) Scheider imitation down pat.

We’ll be gone a week, so I won’t be updating the site. But I’ve put some little bits up now (below) that you might enjoy next week. Take care!

Just One Day

As I was preparing to leave for our trip, came upon a couple things that you might enjoy. The first is a selection from a poem. My mom and nine of her high school friends (the (in)famous “Club”) came to New York City last year to celebrate their sixtieth birthdays. While they were in town we had mass together, and one of them shared this.

While Yet There Is Time

The hours slip past;
Our moments melt
into the eternity behind us;
Time sweeps us on
to a destination
from which there is no return….
While yet there is time
look out upon the world,
devour it with your eyes,
and if your spirit demands more,
add at least one stone
to the edifice being built.
Fill your lungs with the smell of flowers;
let the first cool breath of dawn
blow through your hair.
While yet there is time
let us greet the dawn together;
while yet there is time
love, and be loved;
let our thoughts
throw light in dark places;
let your lips
blossom in a smile.

By Rasul Rza

The other is a YouTube Video. It’s a commercial, actually, that played down here before a movie we saw. (Yes, they play commercials before movies down here, too. Cars, cell phones, movie tickets. Somehow the ads don’t seem quite so extreme as the U.S. ads, though. A bit less of howling music while kids jump off cliffs on snowboards and music videos advertise for branches of the military.)

Anyway, when I was a novice our novice director continually reminded us of the need to "savor" our experiences, and that's a big part of this whole tertianship experience, too. I think this ad, which is about a may fly, really captures that.

Measuring Up (and Down)

It’s always funny when temperature comes up here – and right now it’s coming up a lot, because it’s been atypically cool and rainy. An Australian guy will say the temperature, at which point I enter a momentary fugue state while my brain tries to convert degree Celsius to degree Fahrenheit. (A basic rule of thumb: 30 degrees is very hot; 10 is pretty cool.)

The way we measure things is a part of the fabric of life, common sense… until you go elsewhere. In Australia, not only is it degree Celsius, not degree Fahrenheit, it’s kilometers, not miles. Centimeters, not inches. Liters, not gallons. And kilograms not pounds. I was thrilled recently to hop on a scale and find myself weighing less than 100. Then I was given a conversion rate. Really looking forward to a Lenten fast.

Getting in the spirit of things, I’m going to use degree Celsius, kms, cms, kgs and liters as often as I can in my entries. For those playing along at home:
1 kilometer is 0.62 miles.
1 centimeter is 0.39 inches.
1 liter is 0.22 gallons.
1 kilogram is 2.20 pounds -- which in my opinion is really unfair; if kilometers are less than miles, why aren’t kilograms less than pounds? I’d like to propose a recount.

As for degree Celsius and Fahrenheit, you might remember the formula we learned in school: F=9/5 C +32. Degree Fahrenheit = nine-fifths of the degrees Celsius (almost double) + 32.

Then again, you might just go to convertunits.com and let them do it for you.

Too Much Information

I had the most jarring experience the other day. All of us at Canisius are right now doing the getting to know yous -- trying to remember names, basic background information, place of origin, what we’ve been up to. A lot of our community’s meal conversations return to these topics.

And a typical question to start is where are you from. As a Jesuit, I’ve never quite known what to say – or perhaps which things, or how much. There’s the current address: I live in New York. There’s province of origin: Wisconsin. And there’s place of origin, which is usually assumed to be somewhere in the province of origin, but in my case the two are different. I am in the Wisconsin Province, but I am from Chicago, home of the White Sox, Gino’s East, Bill Murray and Lake Shore Drive. Usually I go with all three: I’m a member of the Wisconsin Province, living in New York, originally from Chicago, home of the White Sox, Gino’ East, Bill Murray and Lake Shore Drive. (Ok, I don’t always add the end piece; but when I don’t I try to give a special heartfelt emphasis to the way I say “Chicago”. It’s actually very similar to Chinese tone work.)

With Jesuits, if you’re working outside of our own province, you might get a follow-up: are you applied to the New York Province (which means you’re on loan to the New York Province) or transcribed (which means at your request you’ve been given permanently to that province, with the permission of your provincial and the provincial of the other province)? Here, too, a complication: America House is a community of the New York Province, but America Magazine is a national work of the Society of Jesus in the United States. Though members of other provinces who work at America are living in the New York Province, because the magazine is a national work, they are actually neither applied nor transcribed to New York, but rather retain status as members of their home province. It’s a completely unique situation in the Assistancy; our other national works – our theologates and national conference offices – are in fact under the aegis of the national conference office and its president.

So, are you dizzy?

And I haven’t even gotten to the jarring part. Next entry!

On Wisconsin

Ok, the jarring experience. I give my schpiel – member of the Wisconsin Province, working in New York, originally from Chicago, home of the White Sox, etc. etc. sigh.

And the Jesuit across from me, an 79 year old Australian who has spent much of his life on the Western coast of Australia, in Perth, says, “Hmm. ‘Wisconsin.’ What does that mean?”

The question, in fact the very idea of the question flabbergasted me, mostly because I had no idea. Had never even thought of the name of the state as having a meaning.

At this same time, just days earlier I had been wondering where the name Sydney came from.

This situation could not stand. After lunch, I went immediately to Google, and made some great discoveries at the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Wisconsin, it turns out, means “river running through a red place.” It emerges from the language of the Miami Indians, who guided none other than the Jesuits’ own Jacques Marquette in June, 1673, from their village in Green Lake County through the Fox River, across quite a bit of dry land and onto a river that they, according to Marquette’s journal, called the “Meskousing.”

In 1674, another explorer, Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, misread Marquette’s “M” as a cursive “Ou” and this misreading ended up being printed on maps, such that Miskonsing became Ouisconsing. According to the Historical Society, over the next 150 years both the river and the region became known as “Ouisconsin.”

After the War of 1812, large numbers of miners began to enter the region. Most used the French spelling. However, U.S. government spellings varied between “Ouisconsin” and “Wisconsin” until the latter became the standard. July 4th, 1836, federal territorial status was granted to “Wisconsin”.

A funny story – the first governor, James Duane Doty, hated that spelling. He preferred “Wiskonsan”, and insisted on it until he was given lifetime season tickets to the Green Bay Packers. (In actuality, to shut him down the legislature eventually issued a joint resolution declaring the official spelling as “Wisconsin”.

As for the meaning of the name, the Historical Society notes that at various points of the river, such as near Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids, the surrounding rock is red in color. Hence the name: river running through a red place.

I returned to my new friend, loaded with all of this information. The next day at lunch he thanked me. Someone else at the table asked what we were talking about, and I told them the story: “He asked where I was from, I had said I’m from Chicago but I’m in the Wisconsin Province, and then he had wondered what “Wisconsin” meant and I had no idea. So I looked it up.” I ended, very pleased with myself.

And my friend looked up and said “Hey, what does Chicago mean?”

Which just about ruined my day.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I’ve been in Pymble about five days now. I’ve spent most of my time sleeping, reading, meeting people. And investigating: each day I have sort of poked around one area or another, trying to find my way. Friday I wandered the building, all the nooks and crannies. Saturday I walked ten minutes along our main street, Mona Vale, to a neighborhood mall. (Interesting differences: along with the usual clothing stores, snack and fast food shops (including McDonald's), CD/DVD/Electronics, they had two supermarkets, a couple doctor's offices a sort of a mini-mart, and a library. On the main floor people would walk around steering what we would call supermarket carts indoors from store to store.)

Sunday I took my first walk in the wealthy suburban neighborhood in which we live. Within about 45 minutes, I was lost. So lost, in fact, I ended up in another township, going pretty much the wrong way, and had to have an old woman tell me how to get back to our house. (I know this will receive immediate laughs from pretty much everyone reading. Just remember, God calls the weak, shall we say the disoriented.)

And then on Monday, I thought, what’s the next step? Could get on a train to Sydney – that’s a bit far. Probably time to start driving.

Driving: Australia is a Commonwealth, which is to say it’s of 16 countries that acknowledge Great Britian’s Queen Elizabeth II as their monarch. From the standpoint of governance, this does not mean a heck of a lot. Australia is a sovereign state, it has its own two-house parliament and prime minister who run the country. And there’s a strong desire among the people to put aside the commonwealth notion entirely and become a republic.

But in terms of culture, of course there’s been lots of influence over the centuries, from the popularity of sports like tennis, cricket and rugby, to turns of phrase, the standards of measurement…and the fact that Australians, like Brits, drive on the left side of the road. And in the cars, the steering wheel is on the right.

This is a very minor difference from us, really – it’s not as though you’re driving backwards or in space. If you hit the gas a little too much, you won't find yourself hurtling by Pluto. Still, being on a one-lane each way highway with cars on the right hand side hurtling toward you, well, one's instinct is to immediately swerve completely off the road.

Likewise, turning right from the left hand lanes, that is across traffic –- well it’s actually very easy, as you can see the cars coming, just as in the States. But still, you're expecting them to come from the other way. And so making that turn, you feel like you’re a slickbacked hotrodder in a 1950s car flick, playing chicken with a semi while you smoke your menthols.

Still, you get used to that impending sense of doom. It even becomes fun. Or funny, anyway. On an Australian car, the wiper lever and the turn signal are in the opposite locations from what we’re used to in the States. Here, your wiper is on your left, your turn signal on the right. And every time I turn, every time, I end up instead turning on the windshield wipers, which then slide across the very dry windshield with a wonderful SCREECH, SCREECH. Every time, I do this. Every time. Those who have driven by my car at these moments have probably been frightened at the strange driver within, who seems to be hysterically laughing while he turns without a signal and uses his windshield wipers on a dry day.

Unexpected things are very difficult, like staying in the center of your lane. I’ve never had trouble with as a driver, and one wouldn’t think this has anything to do with what side of the street you drive on, but it does. Probably out of anxiety that I’m about to be hit by the cars coming from the opposite direction (who are DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD, my brain hollers), I’m invariably too far over to the left.

The other challenge is the mirrors. In this new world, I find myself having to remind myself to use the main mirror; it’s in the wrong place, you see, and so usually I find I am looking out the little right hand mirror to gauge the traffic behind me. It actually took me about a half and hour of driving to figure out how that main mirror is supposed to go. Am I supposed to be able to see myself in? I don’t think so. Is it too far up? Down? Again, you’d think I’d never drove, but it all seems so…different.

So far, no accidents. Drove on a very busy road, not yet a highway, but not just a street, and had no problems. Even listened to the radio. Right hand turns still horrify me, but I’m getting there...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

He is the Very Model of A Modern Father General

Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, 71, moderator of the Jesuit provinces of East Asia and Oceania, has just been elected the 30th Superior General of the Society of Jesus! Originally from Spain, and a theologian by training, Father Nicolas was ordained in Tokyo and has spent much of his life working in Japan. The Australian Jesuit newsletter, The Province Express, recently did a couple interviews with him about his work and the upcoming congregation. I'm pasting those below, as well as a whole bunch of news stories on him and the election.

It's an exciting time for the Society; I hope you'll join us in praying for Fr. Nicolas and the work of the general congregation (which will now look at a number of issues raised by the world Society over the last year).

(The pictures are all from Fr. Don Doll, SJ, photos of the congregation, which can be found along with many other great shots at www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/GC35.

A letter from Rome, immediately after the Congregation, announcing Fr. Nicolas as the next General
We have left the election hall a few minutes ago. I am glad to announce that we have a new Superior General of the Society of Jesus. There is immense joy as the members of the Congregation approach the new General to greet and embrace him. Adolfo Nicolas SJ is a man from Asia, a theologian from Japan, but born in Palencia Spain in 1936. He represents a new generation of Spanish missionaries in Japan after Fr. Arrupe.

He joined the Society of Jesus in the novitiate of Aranjuez, a small village close to Madrid, in 1953. After completing his studies of Philosophy in Alcalá, Madrid, in 1960 he goes to Japan to immerse himself in Japanese language and culture. In 1964 commences his Theological studies at Sophia University, Tokyo and is ordained priest on the 17th March 1967 in Tokyo.

After obtaining a Masters degree in Theology at the Gregorian Universality, Rome, he returns to Japan to become a professor of systematic theology at Sophia University. From 1978 to 1984 he becomes the director of the Pastoral Institute at Manila, Philippines and then Rector of the house for young Asian Jesuit students of Theology. From 1993 to 1999 he becomes Provincial of the Jesuit Province of Japan.

After this stint in 'power' he spends three years working in a poor immigrant parish in Tokyo. His work is difficult but he is able to help thousands of Philippine and Asian immigrants and gets a first-hand experience of their suffering. In a way, his love for the poor and downtrodden can become now, after so many years, his most important ministry.

In 2004 is called again to exercise governing functions, and is appointed responsible for the entire Jesuit region of East Asia comprising countries from Myanmar to Timor Este including the new province of China. It is during these years that he is able to support the phenomenal growth of the Jesuit presence in Vietnam and other countries.

Somebody might say that after celebrating the centenary of Fr. Arrupe, the Society has elected a General very much in his own line. It is as if the Society would like to re-affirm once more its missionary character and its commitment to all peoples and cultures.

Congratulations Fr. Adolfo!!

Fr. Fernando Franco SJ
Father Nicolas is Greeted by Father Kolvenbach

Interview with Australian Province Express
Australian Express
Father Adolfo Nicolás
A conversation is an exchange. It leaves neither participant unchanged. This is something that Jesuits and other Christians working in Asia have found for centuries.

It’s been 46 years since Father Adolfo Nicolás first traveled to Japan as a missionary from Spain. His has been a long conversation, first in Japan, but also in Korea and more recently in the Philippines. It’s left him convinced that the West does not have a monopoly on meaning and spirituality, and can learn a lot from the experience of Asian cultures.

‘Asia has a lot yet to offer to the Church, to the whole Church, but we haven’t done it yet’, he says. ‘Maybe we have not been courageous enough, or we haven’t taken the risks that we should.’

It speaks volumes that when Father Nicolás talks about Asia, he uses the term ‘we’. As President of the Jesuit Conference of South East Asia and Oceania, he’s responsible for bringing Jesuits across the region together to think beyond their own countries, and confront challenges facing the globe.

The group he represents stretches from China and Myanmar in the west, to Korea in the north, Australia in the south, and Micronesia in the east. It brings together an incredibly diverse group of cultures and societies. From countries where Christianity has been strong in the past, but is on the wane, to places where Christians make up a small but vibrant minority.

Asked if people from a culture like Japan experience Ignatian Spirituality differently than those in the West, Father Nicolás says the experience was indeed different, but it had yet to be formulated.

‘I think the real experience of the Japanese is different. And it should be different. But the formulation continues to be very much a Western formulation’, he says.

A Japanese Jesuit, Father Katoaki, has recently translated and added comments on the book of the Exercises from a Japanese-Buddhist perspective. Father Adolfo says there has also been some discussion on whether the Exercises could be presented to non-Christians, and how that might occur.

‘The question is how to give the Ignatian experience to a Buddhist’, he says. ‘Not maybe formulated in Christian terms, which is what Ignatius asked, but to go to the core of the experience. What happens to a person that goes through a number of exercises that really turn a person inside-out. This is still for us a big challenge.’

While some work has been done comparing the Ignatian experience with that of Hindus, he says there hasn’t been a lot of work on finding similarities say in Japanese, Chinese or Korean cultures. He says East Asia has been more slow to do this in India, partly because the East Asians have a strong respect for tradition, and hence a respect for Christianity’s European traditions. However, the region’s remoteness also gives it more freedom to be creative.

‘There is more space for experimenting, for trying, for thinking and exchanging’, he says.

Essentially, he says the Exercises are about letting God guide people. This is something that those directing retreats have been wary of in the past, but something that is important when dealing with people from different cultural backgrounds.

‘The fact is, if God is guiding then the Japanese will be guided the Japanese way. And the same with the Chinese, and with people from other religions’, he says.

‘Then the director simply has to be perceptive, to see signs that here God is saying something that I don’t understand, and be humble enough to say continue as long as you keep sane and balanced etc.’

Others throughout Asia are dealing more directly with questions of cultural difference, working as missionaries in countries like Cambodia and Myanmar. Father Nicolás says he’s wary of missionaries who don’t enter into the lives of the people, but keep the patterns of their home cultures – Europe or Latin America - alive in their mind. For them, it’s not about exchange but about teaching and imposing orthodoxy.

‘Those who enter into the lives of the people, they begin to question their own positions very radically’, he says. ‘Because they see genuine humanity in the simple people, and yet they see that this genuine humanity is finding a depth of simplicity, of honesty, of goodness that does not come from our sources.’

That conversation must continue, if we are to learn from Asia and Asia is to learn from us.

‘That is a tremendous challenge, and I think it’s a challenge that we have to face. We don’t have a monopoly, and we have a lot to learn.’

By Michael McVeigh

Father Nicolas is Applauded by the Congregation

Second Interview with Australian Province Express, on the work of the General Congregation
Fr Adolfo Nicolas SJ: Six hopes for the General Congregation

Can we be realistic?

I can still remember GC34. They are fond, humorous and challenging memories. But we were not realistic.

Just imagine: 220 Jesuits decide to tackle 46 topics, work on them for three months, produce 26 documents and solemnly handle and approve 416 complementary norms. Thus, we were not surprised when crises emerged: crises of content, of management, and of hope. Next year we will be close to 230 members.

It is my ardent hope that we be realistic as to what a GC can do decently well, what it cannot, and what it should leave to the new Father-General and his team.

Can we be transparent?

Transparency has become more difficult in our small world. When was the last time that a great leader could confess substantial sins in public and continue leading the flock, the country, the Church?

And yet, our GCs have always started with an honest and frank acknowledgment of where we are going wrong, what is missing in our lives, what has been distorted or wounded of our spirit, what needs conversion, renewal or radical reform.

It is my sincere hope that we can do that again.

Can we be accompanied?

The best of a General Congregation is the event itself, as an ‘event of the heart'. This is a time of intensive search and of exhilarating exchange, where questions and answers do not come lineally, but dance within us and around us, at the rhythm of fraternal and humble mutual openness.

My hope is that this happens to the whole Society of Jesus. I hope that we all take an active part in preparing the Congregation from inside our common issues. Prayer, reflection and exchange are the gift and the contribution.

I hope that those who do not go to Rome, will monitor and follow events closely, with the same hope, the same intensity of search, the same willingness to change and be led by the Spirit of our Lord. This will be our best accompaniment.

Can we be creative?

I have a feeling, still imprecise and difficult to define, that there is something important in our religious life that needs attention and is not getting it. We have certainly been diligent in addressing our problems whenever we have seen them: Poverty (GC32 in 1974 and 34 in 1995), Chastity (GC34), Community (Provincials at Loyola)... But the uneasiness in the Society and in the Church has not disappeared.

The question for us is: Is it enough that we are happy with our life and are improving our service and ministry? Isn't there also an important factor in the perception of people (Vox Populi) that should drive us to some deeper reflection on religious life today? How come we elicit so much admiration and so little following?

Thus, one of my hopes is that in GC35 we begin a process of dynamic and open reflection on our religious life that might begin a process of re-creation of the Society for our times, not only in the quality of our services, but also and mostly in the quality of our personal and community witness to the Church and the World.

Can we be practical?

The age in which we live and our younger Jesuits will live, is an age of very rapid change. New technologies and new communication possibilities can make a great difference. We are using some. We do not feel free to use others. Maybe a certain restraint in using new means might be good for us. Maybe not. It is so difficult to know what is going to happen seven, ten years from now.

It is my hope that the coming GC opens the way for future General Congregations, giving the new General and his Council the freedom to discern and choose the best means to prepare and to run the Congregations of the future.

Can we be short?

We would not like GC35 to become another exercise in patience. A General Congregation is not a "Panacea" for all the problems we might face. It is a help of great value, but basically oriented to the ongoing growth in the Spirit and the Apostolate of the whole Society.

Thus, my final hope is that we will be so clear as to the purposes, and so focused in our work, that we can do this service to the Society and the Church within a reasonably short time.

By Adolfo Nicolas SJ, Moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania.

Father Nicolas, After His Election

Article on the Election from Catholic News Service
Jesuit working in Asia elected new head of order
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Spanish-born Father Adolfo Nicolas, moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania, was elected superior general of the Society of Jesus Jan. 19.

The 217 voting delegates to the Jesuit General Congregation elected Father Nicolas, 71, on their second ballot. He succeeds Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, 79, who had asked to resign because of his age.

Pope Benedict XVI was informed of the election of Father Nicolas before the Jesuits announced it publicly.

The election came after four days of prayer, silence and quiet one-on-one conversations among the voting delegates, who were chosen to represent the more than 19,000 Jesuits around the world.

Father Nicolas was ordained to the priesthood in Tokyo and is the former Jesuit provincial of Japan. He also had served as director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila.

Interviewed in December about his hopes for the work of the General Congregation, Father Nicolas said, "I have a feeling, still imprecise and difficult to define, that there is something important in our religious life that needs attention and is not getting it.

"We have certainly been diligent in addressing our problems whenever we have seen them," he said, noting the focus of past General Congregations, "but the uneasiness in the society and in the church has not disappeared."

In the interview, with the Province Express, the newsletter of the Australian Jesuits, he said, "The question for us is: Is it enough that we are happy with our life and are improving our service and ministry? Isn't there also an important factor in the perception of people ('vox populi') that should drive us to some deeper reflection on religious life today?

"How come we elicit so much admiration and so little following?" he asked.

He concluded by telling the newsletter that he hoped the General Congregation would begin "a process of dynamic and open reflection on our religious life that might begin a process of re-creation of the society for our times, not only in the quality of our services, but also and mostly in the quality of our personal and community witness to the church and the world."

Jesuit Father Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, told Catholic News Service that Father Nicolas "is a great man. He is inspirational, he is holy and he represents a great bridge among the various cultures in the church."

Father Smolich said he had gotten to know the new general as they both served on the commission preparing for the General Congregation. Although Father Nicolas is 71, "he has the energy of a much younger man."

In a Jan. 10 letter to the Jesuits, Pope Benedict asked them to reaffirm their "total adhesion to Catholic doctrine," particularly regarding interreligious dialogue and various aspects of sexual morality.

Father Smolich said, "I do not think there was a cause-and-effect relationship, but we have chosen one of the premiere men in the society" in the field of relations between Christianity and other religions.

"He can work intimately with the pope and the Vatican on this very issue," the Jesuit said.

"Seriously, he is one of the most intelligent and holiest men I have ever met," Father Smolich said. "He has the breadth and depth to handle these issues."

The resignation of Father Kolvenbach and the election of Father Nicolas was just the beginning of the General Congregation's work; as of Jan. 19, the Jesuits had not announced an end date for the meeting, but it was expected to last at least another month and focus on questions of Jesuit identity and governance, vocations, mission and collaboration with the laity.

Born April 29, 1936, in Palencia, Spain, Father Nicolas entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1953. After earning a degree in philosophy in Spain, he was sent to Japan to study theology. He was ordained a priest in Tokyo in 1967.

After earning a master's degree in theology from the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he returned to Japan and taught systematic theology at Sophia University in Tokyo.

In 1978-84 he was director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila. In 1991-1993 he was rector of the program for Jesuit scholastics in Japan, and in 1993 he was appointed provincial for Japan.

Before being named moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania in 2004, he spent three years working in a poor immigrant parish in Tokyo, living with and ministering to Filipino and other Asian immigrants.

Father Nicolas speaks Spanish, Japanese, English, French and Italian.

After his Election, Father Nicolas is Greeted by Members of the Congregation

Reactions from American Jesuits at the Congregation
GC35 Updates from Rome
35th General Congregation Elects Adolfo Nicolás, SJ
posted by: jrogers@jesuit.org on Saturday, January 19, 2008
Choice of Superior General Seen as a “Bridge to All Parts of the World”

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2008 – After four days of prayer and personal conversation known as murmurationes, the 217 Jesuit electors gathered in Rome from around the world have chosen Adolfo Nicolás, SJ as the 30th Superior General of the Society of Jesus. He was the President of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania and the former Provincial of Japan. He is now Father General to nearly 20,000 Jesuits worldwide, including 2,900 in the United States, and the 29th successor to St. Ignatius Loyola who founded the Jesuits in 1540.

Jesuit Conference of the United States President Father Thomas Smolich, SJ, who served on the Coetus Praevius (a planning committee for GC 35) with Father Nicolás, said, “The electors chose the man God had in mind.” Smolich added, “Our new Father General is profoundly spiritual; when you talk to him there is a depth that is striking.”

In an age where diverse cultures, religions and ways of life interact on an unprecedented scale, Father Nicolás is widely viewed as among the leading Jesuit experts on inter-religious dialogue. “His history as a scholar and theology professor, educated in both Tokyo and Rome, and his multiple language skills of east and west were also important to this international body of educators,” said Father Fred Kammer, SJ, provincial of New Orleans and one of the electors. “His experiences of the dynamic emerging Church in such countries as India, Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines and his vision for spreading the Gospel appealed to many – reminding them of the great missionary St. Francis Xavier,” according to Kammer.

New York Provincial Father Jeff Chojnacki, SJ added, “his election is a bridge to all parts of the world.” It is a bridge expected to reach across not only geographic divisions. Father Shogo Sumita, SJ, current provincial of Japan, recalled how Father Nicolás moved from the provincial residence to one of poorest neighborhoods. “He has a deep grace of Ignatian spirituality and a creative imagination. After serving as provincial, he decided to live and work with the poor,” said Father Sumita.

Father Nicolás was born in Spain, earned a degree in systematic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, taught at the Sophia University in Tokyo, directed the East Asia Pastoral Institute in the Philippines, served as presiding secretary of the 34th General Congregation in 1995, and speaks five languages. His visits to the United States have included stops at the Arrupe Experience, an annual preparation program for American Jesuits nearing ordination.

The Provincial of Maryland Father Tim Brown, SJ sees the election of a man with this breadth to be a “sign of unity and peace.” New England Provincial Father Tom Regan adds, “We are delighted that such a holy man, one who has such a vision of the world, has been selected to lead us.”

“And at 71 years old,” says Father Smolich, “Nicolás walks faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

At Lunch following the Election, Father Kolvenback Defers to Father Nicolas

Lastly, a reaction from Sophia University, where Fr. Nicolas taught
Fr. Nicolas is a cheerful and optimistic person, not to mention well-versed in theology and spirituality. He first came to Japan in 1961 and has spent most of his time since then in Japan and the Philippines. He is fluent in Spanish, English, Japanese, and several other European languages. As a professor of theology, he is quite familiar with the current religious crises confronting the Church and the Society, and as a former Provincial of Jesuits in Japan, he has the experience of facing major challenges. Fr. Nicolas has shown special interest in helping the poor, immigrants, and refugees, and has personally spent three years, after completing his term as the Provincial, working for immigrant laborers in Japan. At least in Japan, most Bishops know him well as he was a professor of theology, teaching both at Sophia University and at the Tokyo diocesan seminary, and has served as a theological consultant to several of them. Given his ever-smiling personality, he has always been popular with young Jesuits, and most seniors too admire him for his intellect and common sense.

Election Day

As of just about right now, June 19th 7:45pm Sydney time, the delegates to the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus are preparing to elect a new general. I'll post the results when I know them, but I thought some people might be interested in how the election itself works. I've attached a description from the congregation below.


After four days of praying, reflecting and consulting among themselves, the 217 electors of the 35 General Congregation are ready to vote for a new Superior General on January 19. The day will begin at 8:00 with the concelebrated Mass at the Church of the Holy Spirit which is across the Curia. At 9:30 the electors will convene in the aula, recite the Veni Creator Spiritus, listen to an exhortation by Father Jacques Gellard, Assistant ad providentiam, and continue in personal prayer for the rest of an hour.

As prescribed by the Formula, each elector writes in his own hand, on the ballot he has received, the name of the one whom he chooses to be Superior General. After the ballots have been completed, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the Secretary of the Congregation, Father Orlando Torres and his Assistant, Father Ignacio Echarte swear to God and in the presence of the electors to perform faithfully the duties of receiving and making public the votes. The votes are then collected and counted. The one who receives a simple majority of 109 votes is considered elected. The name of the one elected is immediately communicated to the Holy Father.

The Secretary of the Congregation handwrites the Decretum of election which is signed by Father Kolvenbach. Father Kolvenbach reads the Decretum in Latin: Ego Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J., auctoritate Sedis Apostolicae et universae Societatis, Reverendum Patrem N…declaro electum in Praepositum Generalem Societatis Jesu, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. (“I declare Father N…elected as General of the Society of Jesus, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). The newly elected General turns to the crucifix which has been placed in the center of the aula, and makes his profession of faith: I, N… firmly believe all and each of the truths contained in the Symbol of the faith. And proceeds to read the Creed.

At this point, all the electors, beginning with Father Kolvenbach, the Secretary and his Assistant, come forward to greet the new Superior General. When all the electors have greeted the new General the doors of the aula are opened and the Curia community greets Father General. The election ends with a procession to the chapel for a short prayer of thanksgiving.


On Sunday, the 20th of January at 16:00 hours, there will be a concelebrated Mass at the Gesù Church. A few minutes before the Mass, the newly elected Superior General, accompanied by four electors and a deacon, will enter the rooms of Saint Ignatius (camerette). In the place where Father Ignatius wrote the Constitutions, the group will pause for a moment of silent prayer. The deacon will proclaim the following passage from the Gospel of Saint Mathew (Mt. 2: 8-12): You must not be called “teacher” for you are all brothers and have only one Teacher, […] Nor should be called “leader” because your one and only leader is the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. […].

The most senior member of the electors will turn to Father General and remind him of the kind of person Part IX of Constitutions says the Superior General ought to be. In the rooms where Saint Ignatius wrote these words, the will hold and especially poignant meaning.

At the end of this brief ceremony, Father General and those who accompanied him will beginning the procession into the Gesù Church for the Mass of Thanksgiving. After the Mass Father General will process to the altar of Saint Ignatius where a votive lamp remains burning for the duration of the General Congregation and venerate the relics of our Holy Founder which are kept in a reliquary beneath the altar.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Finally, Hong Kong

Vertiginous: having or causing a whirling sensation; liable to falling. Synonyms: dizzy, giddy, woozy.

At the end it should add, "See Hong Kong."

First, a history lesson: Hong Kong consists of both islands and mainland territory just off the South China Sea. In 1841, after China tried to stamp out the opium trade which had prospered in Hong Kong with British traders, the U.K. took control of the island of Hong Kong proper, and in the Treaty of Nanking, China ceded control "in perpetuity." 20 years later, at the end of what was called the Second Opium War, Britian took control of the Kowloon Peninsula, across the bay (Victoria Bay) from Hong Kong. A July 1898 treaty gave the U.K. control of this property for 99 years.

In 1984, this arrangement was renegotiated, such that Britian agreed to give up not only the peninsula but the island of Hong Kong, with the proviso that China agreed not to change Hong Kong's economic, legal or social systems for 50 years following the 1997 reunification. Today, China calls this model "One country, two systems," and offers its success as an indication of the liberties the Republic of China (Taiwan) could have if it would return to full communion (as it were) with the mainland.

Hong Kong today: fast-paced, energetic, crowded, and dazzling. A financial center of Asia, trade center of Asia. Everywhere, street signs, streetlife, spectacle. A Chinese Manhattan.

One such street, 7pm on a Wednesday night (click on it for a larger view):

The nighttime skyline to be found on the northern side of Hong Kong island is equally remarkable -- many colors, and so vast that standing on the other side of Victoria Bay, there's still no way to photograph the whole of it. A couple sections:

Eastern part.

Farther to the west.

A close up of one section.

But what truly makes Hong Kong vertiginous, at least for me, is the heights. Hong Kong is a city enthralled by heights. Not only skyscrapers but residential buildings tower all around, 40, 50, 60 stories in the air. A view from Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island (again, I recommend clicking for the bigger view).

The building where I stayed had a street running right by the building. Yet look to the back of the building, and you find this whole street is far above ground level, probably 15 stories.

Even in the malls, Hong Kong loves its heights. The shot below was taken from the top floor of one mall, reached via two massive sets of escalators.

Again, easily 150 feet up.

That experience of staggering height was so frequent in the two days that I was in Hong Kong, at the end of my second day there, as I lay down to bed, I actually found the room spinning. Nothing too extreme, mind you, just the quiet sensation that the world around you may in fact have been upside down all these years and be preparing to right itself. The fasten your seatbelt sign, in your stomach.

The same thing briefly happened when I awoke. And once again later that day. And about two hours after I landed in Sydney. And when I first began to write about it.

And right now. Time to lay down.

Hong Kong, though -- it's a keeper.

PS You'll note the picture at the start of this blog is a little blurry. You'd think that this happened because I moved while taking of the picture. Think again. Hong Kong moves so fast, it's very tough to get a good shot.

The people of Hong Kong have asked me to finish by saying: That's what I'm talking about, New York!

There you have it.

Lay of the Land

I have arrived in Sydney! I got in yesterday at 7:30am, after an uneventful 8-hour flight from Hong Kong. One of the other tertians, an American named Michael Gilson, was there to pick me up and we took a one-hour train ride from the airport back to our new home, Canisius College, in Pymble, which is outside Sydney.

Let me give you the lay of the land. Canisius College consists of a set of buildings one and two stories tall that contains within them four different communities and ministries. There's the tertianship program, which involves this year 11 guys like me from around the world, a director and an assistant director (who also serves as rector of the community as a whole). There's a novitiate -- the two-year program that Jesuits do when they first the Society (mine was in St. Paul, Minnesota). That program includes one second year novice, who is about to take his first vows, two first years, and I understand three guys who will come soon to begin the program, as well as their novice master and perhaps other staff. There's a retirement community for the Jesuits of the Sydney area, in which reside 8 men currently. And on top of all this there is a retreat house and staff for that ministry. All total I'd guess there are something like 20-25 men living here, but for now it's just a guess.

So why is it called a college, you ask? Well, it turns out that until 1969 this was the site of a theologate -- a site where Jesuits would go to study theology in preparation for their ordination to the priesthood. (Mine was in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology).

Everyone here has been most welcoming. I've spent my time meeting people, wandering the property and sleeping. We start our program Monday night.

My Hong Kong posts are coming.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Down the Rabbit Hole

Hong Kong, 6pm, Thursday. I am at the airport, waiting to board my flight to Sydney. And suddenly, a number of pieces just clicked into place. First --

(Now for those of you are saying, wait a minute, what happened to Hong Kong?, please, just be patient. It may take me a couple days, but I'll get there. A three word preview: Skyline. Cantonese. Vertigo.

But since you brought the topic up, Hong Kong has a message right now for Manhattan: You might be an apple, you might be a big apple, but next to us, you're more like a plum. Or maybe a date. Or a raisin.)

So anyway, in the airport. Sudden cold sweat, not sure why. And the penny drops. I'm going to Sydney. SYDNEY.

For those of you uninterested in American pop culture of the last few years, this may mean nothing. You might find yourself "lost" in this conversation. But for "others"... well, planes flying to and from Sydney sometimes land someplace ... else. Or so ABC tells me.

My plane is boarding soon. Gotta make this quick. On top of that sudden flash, I realize that in my carry on bag I have the first three seasons of Lost, the TV show about the plane from Sydney that vanishes and ends up on an island where crazy roaring monsters eat people and other people who live on the island hunt us down.

So, what we're dealing with is immediate and major bad karma. It's like talking about a plane crash on a plane. You don't do that. Not just because it freaks everyone else out (as fellow Red Cloud teacher Mike Shashaty proved to me when he spent about ten minutes in a plane (during a snowstorm, I am reminded by his wife) talking (loudly) about what if this plane crashes); it's just bad luck. I believe in a merciful God, a loving God. But let's not push our luck.

And I would toss the DVDs out right now if I hadn't been forced at the last minute to check the bag. Lke it or not, it's on the plane. The plane I'm getting on. The plane going to Sydney.

I'm at the gate. Plane's boarding. And I see it in the window: my flight. It's flight 815.

And I'm sitting next to a lady in handcuffs.

So -- basically, see you in 20 years...

The funny thing is, instead of being freaked out, all I want to know is, which one am I? I can't be the Jin, I speak English. Not quite the wisecracker that is Sawyer. Probably intense enough to do a Jack, but nah. Not exactly me.

Which leaves either two possibilities: faceless other passenger #17, who helps builds the fire and gathers around when Jack calls us. Or I'm that goofy science teacher who blows himself up.

So, should be a good trip.

See you Down Under. Hong Kong photos/stories then.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Li Jiang River Tour

I wanted to post some pictures from the tour I took yesterday along the Li Jiang (the Li River). We had an overcast day, but man, the view was spectacular.

If you look closely, you see in the distance a round hill. Our tour guide informed us, this is known as the Big Apple. "Not THE Big Apple," he went on, but the Big Apple.

(On another occasion he pointed out a small, ramshackle town on the side of the river. "According to Chinese custom, this village has the perfect feng shui," he told us, "because it has mountains behind it and a river in front of it." He went on: "Unfortunately, this village is also very poor.")

The tour went down the river from one small town to another; this shot is from the turn around point. Something about those hills really grabbed me.

In the foreground you can see the tiny figure of a person in a red shirt. We went by him near the end of our trip. I was struck by the size of him in comparison to the hills around us. This one might show it better:

And then, finally, here I am near the end of the trip.

It really was spectacular.

The Funnies

I arrived in Hong Kong late this afternoon, and I will be spending the next two days in the Ricci House Jesuit Community with Stephen Chow, SJ, a member of the China Province and administrator of two high schools the Jesuits run in Hong Kong. Stephen and I knew each other at Loyola Chicago and again at Weston.

I’m going to write about Hong Kong tomorrow, but because I don’t have any pictures yet (and you really have to see pictures of the night skyline to appreciate how amazing Hong Kong is…) I thought I would instead show off some of my favorite humorous photos from the trip.

Strangest Road Sign:

I discovered this road sign on a street in the little town of Yangshuo, about an hour's drive from Guilin. The closest I come to an explanation is it's a warning against venturing into the street. The guy is putting his foot out there; uh oh, the sign's saying, better be careful!

The thing is, the street's not that busy. Maybe a little perspective would help?

Maybe not.

So Familiar, It's Creepy:

Recognize the decor? Yes, that's right. It's Starbucks. In fact, it could be literally the Starbucks you went to yesterday. It's just...in China. (Xi'An, to be specific.)

Where To Go For Your Birthday:

That's right. KFC. Party Central.

And in case you think it's just an advertisement -- actually, before we go on, what the heck is with the green puppy making eyes at the nina?

Weird anime creature aside, it turns out in parts of China, KFC is considered a place to go for a special occasion. A pal of mine in BeiJing told me not long ago he offered to take a colleague out to dinner for their birthday. They could choose anyplace they wanted. Their choice was extra crispy, and keep the biscuits and cole slaw coming. His explanation: KFC was the first major American brand to get into China, and it's more expensive than most restaurants. That combination of price and Western origins apparently makes it a little more upscale.

Who knew?

Here Come... the Olympic Mascots!

Just can't wait to find out who the mascots of the 2008 Olympic Games are? Well, look no further: It's the Fuwa! Yes, that's right, cuddly adorable Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini will be making a home in your living for about a month this summer.

Wikipedia informs me the five represent not only the five Olympic rings but the five traditional Chinese elements -- metal, wood, water, fire and earth. And when you say their names together in order, BeiJing Huanying Ni, you get, in English, BeiJing welcomes you. They've also got a 100-episode cartoon series that came out last year, and make a cameo in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (which I suspect is a video game). Wikipedia has loads more information on them. To me, they appear vaguely Telly-Tubby. What I want to know is, can we expect individual sounds to suit each character, or perhaps trademark schticks?

One thing is for sure: they can't be worse than Atlanta, 1996. Lest you blocked it:

And You Think Your Rush Hour is Crowded:

It's so crowded on the subway at rush hour in BeiJing you literally can't move. Strangely, it's not exactly uncomfortable. Everybody sort of rests against everybody else.

Jim McDermott, Power Ranger

Highlight of my trip: I was given a Power Coin and inducted into the Power Rangers. Bring it on, Lord Zed!

And last but not least...My new favorite brand of bread:

I understand it's very cheap.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I write you from Guilin (Gwee-leen), a small town of about 70000 in the central/south part of China. I'm guessing you've never heard of it: I hadn't either, and there's really no reason we should have. It's not a place of any historical significance, as far as I can tell, and it's not big enough to be a major Chinese city.

No, what it is is a Chinese vacation town. Guilin lies on the Li River, which is actually not that big a stream, either deep or across. But if you float down river a bit, you find yourself surrounded by these sudden peaks. I guess they're hills, really, too small to be mountains, but they jut up so dramatically that they feel quite massive. As I look out my hotel room window you can see them all around, popping up in and out of the city. But on the Li River, it's much more atmospheric and dramatic. (I'm going to attach some photographs tomorrow.)

Anyway, back to the vacation town thing. Guilin is clearly in the off season at this point -- it was something like 35 degrees today. (I am definitely ready for the Sydney summer. As it is I've got a tan, but it's really just permanent windburn.) But even now, the town exudes ease and relaxation from its pores. You cannot resist its power; come to Guilin, and you will relax. It has all the little fun things of a vacation town, parks and hiking places and tacky cheap stores and some really beautiful river walks.

And, to top it all off, Guilin has the classic element of a Midwestern vacation town: caves. Yes, that's right, caverns that you can visit. (In the Midwest, it's a law: if you're going to host people for vacation, you gotta have caves. And a water park. And a place where you can buy homemade fudge.)

So yesterday I went to one of Guilin's caves, the Seven Star Cave in Seven Star Park (Qixing Gong Yuen -- chee shee gong ywen). It was sort of the cosmic bowling of caves -- instead of walking around in the dark, everything is lit in many different colors. There's no rock music playing (which is the other main element in a good cosmic bowling session) but that's just a matter of time.

So I'm wandering through this cave, and suddenly I realize that what I am now doing is reliving my childhood. Every vacation we took involved caves. Wisconsin Dells: Caves and water park. Orlando: Disney, water parks, and I'm pretty sure caves. South Dakota: Mt. Rushmore, caves ... and a Mystery Spot. ( I always loved the Mystery Spot -- you know, where you walk in and suddenly you're walking on the ceiling and they say "gravity is strange here". I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. Why was gravity different? Could the effect be reproduced?)

And what causes me to realize I am repeating events from my youth is that about five minutes into the tour, I am bored silly. I always wanted to go on the cave tours growing up until we were actually in them. Then it was like, Batman's cave is so much better. You hear about the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, learn the little trick (stalaGmites come up from the Ground; stalaCtites emerge from the Ceiling) and after that it's all about how this formation looks like a lion; this formation looks like the Great Wall of China.

Now I admit, occasionally, there are some wild coincidences -- like this scene of stalagmites which looks exactly like a bunch of people standing around -- maybe a Nativity scene?

But most of the time these look alikes are really pushing it. This was supposed to be a lion. (To me it looks like a guy with a big chin.)

I have no idea what this was:

Red Kryptonite?

I took 15 of this.

Ambigious, but colorful!

The what are we doing here/are we there yet/I'm hungry and she took my toy/I just need to get this photograph sorts of moments -- it's all part of a trip, isn't it? We hate them when they're going on and yet make the best stories. Like the RV my parents rented for our family trip to South Dakota -- otherwise known as Voyage of the McDamned. Every time it took a turn, the refrigerator and all the drawers of the RV flew open -- I mean FLEW open -- and everything within flew out. (And let me tell you, if you haven't been there, there are a lot of turns, close, even hairpin turns on the curvy hills of South Dakota.)

Tomorrow: the amazing hills and peaks of the Li River.

P.S. Yesterday after my cave experience I spent more time than is healthy thinking about how I might do a story about mystery spots, and mostly so that I would have an excuse to visit some again. Apparently, my passion for them abides.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

P.S. An Ode to Toilette

Speaking of leaping... yesterday I left Xi'an (say it with me now: Shee-ON) for Guilin, which is this beautiful town surrounded by mountains. I'm hoping to climb one today and to take a river cruise tomorrow.

ANYWAY, I was at the Xi'An airport quite a while yesterday, and eventually I decided, what the heck, I'm going to try those toilets again!

Funny thing is, when I get in there, there's an attendant who immediately points me to the stall on the end. It's a handicapped stall, and consequently it has our own traditional arrangement, with the standing unit.

But I say, heck no! Though he keeps pointing me that way, I turn around, grab some toilet paper (which hangs from dispenser units on either side of the room -- don't ask me why they don't just have toilet paper in each stall, I have no idea but I'm sure there's a reason), step into one of the hole-stalls, and get down to business.

About three minutes later, down from the stall door flutters a stream of additional toilet paper. I guess the attendant was worried for me.

It's like I said, you just got keep putting yourself out there (in this case, literally) and good things happen.

Off to see Guilin.

Call Me Zhim

Some people have been asking me how to pronounce some of the places that I've been, which made me think it might be fun to talk a little about the language here. Chinese has a bunch of letters pronounced differently than our own. X is "sh"; q is "ch." (You take in on the qin here, not on the chin.) z is "ds" and c is "ts" as in "pits", and zh is "j". When followed by another vowel i usually becomes "y" and u often takes on the sound of "w". Oh, and "e" is often "ur". And there's a lot of other changes, too. (One of my favorite: the letters is sh keep the sound "sh" but with the tongue rolled back in the mouth. So it takes on this sort of surfer dude quality. Yes in Chinese is shir. But it's like "shrrr." As in, Shrrr, dude, those waves are tigghtt! Suffice it to say, I love trying to say yes.)

Chinese's sentence structure is very much like our own -- subject verb object. And they don't have plural tenses, so no version of -s at the end of a word. They don't have changes in the verb tense, either -- so the same word is used to indicate the present, the past, the future, and for one person or many.

Given this, you'd think there'd be a lot less to memorize to be able to put a sentence together.

Yeah, you'd think. Except every time I go to a restaurant and try to order tea in Chinese, which takes just three syllables -- wo yao cha -- they either 1) begin giggling or 2) look at me with a total lack of comprehension. The girls generally giggle, while the boys do deer in the headlights. (I say boys/girls, by the way, because so far as I can tell, pretty much everyone waiting tables in the restaurants is just a kid, 15, 16, 17 years old.)

So, given these reactions -- and the fact that I get tea only about half the time -- I'm thinking the language is a bit more challenging than it seems at first glance.

The challenge -- at least the immediate one - is tones. In an English sentence, we might put an accent on certain words for emphasis. An example: Like, OH MY GOD, I am like TOTALLY going to the show tonight. A more realistic example (if you're not from the valley): WHERE is my WALLET?

Chinese does not work this way. Or, it works this way, but with every word. With few exceptions, every word has one of four different tones. There's a high flat tone, there's an ascending tone (like at the end of a question), there's a descending/ascending tone -- which I take to be sort of like we normally speak, but I'm probably wrong -- and there's a quick sharp downward tone. And the tone works with the word itself to determine the meeting. That is to say, the word "ma" has four different meanings; which one you mean depends on the tone you use. A high flat ma means mom (funny coincidence, isn't it, that their word for mother would be the same as ours? Maybe it's not a coincidence, I don't know.); the ascending 'ma' means hemp; the descending/ascending means horse; and the sharp downward means to scold.

So, it's almost as though to be a good Chinese speaker, you've got to be a good singer or musician. You have to hear things that we're not used to hearing. I am constantly reciting to myself those four basic tones, as I try to figure out how to say different words. Ma ma ma ma. Ma ma ma ma. I'm sure they think I'm crazy. I wouldn't really care, if I got my tea!

It's actually pretty challenging to go to restaurants now that I'm on my own and pretty lame at the language. I have to really take a leap every time I do it. But the end results are pretty much always good. Even when people get frustrated with me saying whatever it is I'm saying over and over again, they are patient and in good humor. And I get fed.

In some ways it's a lot like the pilgrimage they ask us to do when we first enter the Society. 30 days, $30, one way bus ticket to anywhere in the country, put yourself in God's hands. The results are very much the same -- a deep appreciation for the goodness of people and an awareness that God will take care of you.

So I just try to keep leaping.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Terracotta Warriors

The big draw in Xi'An (which by the way is pronounced She-On) is the tomb of the terracotta warriors. About an hour's drive outside of town is the tomb of man who first unified all of China and became emperor, Qin Shi Huang. It's really just a mound of dirt that protrudes up from the ground at this point. But about a mile and a half from the location, in 1974 a man digging a well came upon a cavern, and in that cavern was discovered the remains of life-sized statues of warriors from the Qin era. It appears that Emperor Qin, for most of his time as emperor, had artisans preparing an underground city of warriors, entertainment -- everything that you would find in the above ground capitol of the empire -- so that when the Emperor died, he would be protected, entertained, etc. There's something like 24 square miles of ground that probably have underneath elements of this underground world -- a huge area. And something like 10 or 11 of villages exist directly above some of these spots, consequently they can't be excavated. Thus far, the real treasure trove is the find of the terracotta warriors.

At that site, there are really four chambers. One was completely empty -- it must have been dug, but then the emperor died, so it was never filled in. One was a small chamber containing the headquarters of one of the military leaders (again, this isn't the real HQ of a real leader, but rather the imagined headquarters of one of the military leaders of this underground group of statue-people). In this chamber, there aren't a lot of people. Then there's a chamber that's bigger containing archers and the highest ranking officer in the group, which they call a general. Unfortunately, that chamber is currently being renovated.

But that's Ok, because the real knock-your-socks-off moment is the last chamber (right). As you can see, it's literally bigger than a football field, and within it have been found an infantry unit of over 6000 terracotta warriors. (Terracotta, it was explained to me, means the statues are made out of clay which has been carved and then heated dry, without any additional glaze.) As you see from my photos, by and large you can't get too close, let alone walk among them. My guide told me that Bill Clinton is the only person they've let down there in fact; they have a photo with him, Hillary and Chelsea all walking among the rows. But I have to say, I think it's an advantage not to get too close, because from a short distance, the faces have such a lifelike quality. Any one of them could stop and turn and look at you, and it would hardly be a surprise. They're that real-looking. Each one, utterly unique; you won't see any faces repeated, and even in posture, clothing, gesture each is individual.

The figures tell so many stories. I saw men that looked as though they were old, yet willing to fight. Others ready for a battle. Others more along for the ride, or preoccupied with family, other things. In the figure below, the man center to me seems very dignified, maybe a little old to be infantry, but there, ready, willing. In a couple cases all I could see were backs, and still the figures suggested lots of material. It was a meditation on the human scene. Glorious.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


One other thing you might be interested in. Right now, elected members of the Society of Jesus from all over the world are gathered in Rome to elect a new general. Our current general, a man named Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, has been in office for 25 years, and is stepping down. Jesuit Generals actually have no term limit; we're the only order, in fact, that elects its leader for life. Our rules aren't changing, but the pope has allowed Fr. Kolvenbach to retire.

If you're interested in the Congregation, Don Doll, a Jesuit photographer who is at the congregation, has a web page with lots of cool slide shows and photographs you can check out: magis.creighton.edu.

Creighton U also has its own website entirely devoted to what's going on over there, with an audience in mind of those who might be friends of the Society or interested but don't necessarily know: http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/GC35.

If you're looking for some interesting things to read, well, I happen to know that a brilliant little magazine called America did a couple cool pieces lately that might be of interest to you. There's an article on the last General, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, by a Jesuit theologian named Kevin Burke, at http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10386, and an interview with the current General that I did: http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10418. Both are free at America's website once you take a second and register (which doesn't require a subscription).

If you're an America subscriber, you can find another article on Arrupe through the eyes of his old assistants, at http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10385.

The Italian Jesuit magazine Popoli also did an interview with Fr. Kolvenbach as well. It has some really interesting stuff in it. If you read Italian you can go to http://www.popoli.info/, click on the "speciale: intervista a padre Kolvenbach" in the upper right hand corner to see it. Otherwise, I've posted a piece from Catholic News Service below.

No one knows when exactly a new general will be elected, but it will be pretty soon, the next week or so. The group of Jesuits are meeting for a few days now to get the procedural stuff squared away, then they go into a three day process known as the "murmatio", in which the men are allowed to meet with one another individually to talk about possible candidates, the needs of the church and Society at this time, etc., but no one can campaign and there are no bigger group think sessions allowed. It's all 1-on-1 conversations among the electors. And at the end of this, the group gathers to vote.

Last time around, Father Kolvenbach was elected on the very first ballot.

From Catholic News Service:
posted: Thursday, December 06, 2007
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In almost a quarter-century as the superior general of the largest men's religious order, Jesuit Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach has had to mediate between individual Jesuits and Vatican or local church officials who thought a Jesuit had stepped outside the bounds of Catholic theology.

"The attitude required in the majority of situations of conflict," he said, was to ensure fidelity to the unity of the church, to truth and to charity.

Father Kolvenbach, 79, formally will offer his resignation to the Jesuits' general congregation in early January. He was elected superior general in 1983.

In an interview published Dec. 5 in the Italian Catholic journal Il Regno, Father Kolvenbach said, "Just as at the time of (Jesuit founder St.) Ignatius, the Jesuits refer to the vicar of Christ on earth so as not to wander onto erroneous paths and to ask the way to follow for the greater glory of God and for the true good of all humanity."

The superior said the Jesuits see themselves as men on a mission to bring the Gospel to places where it has not been heard or where it is misunderstood.

Father Kolvenbach said that Pope John Paul II affirmed in 1982 that the Jesuits should be on the front lines ministering among those dealing with questions and debates on "faith and the modern world, faith and science, faith and culture, faith and justice -- in order to communicate the word of God everywhere."

But being on the front lines, he said, can lead to difficulties, questions and misunderstandings.

In an interview also released Dec. 5 in the online edition of Popoli, an Italian Jesuit magazine, Father Kolvenbach said being a theologian today is particularly challenging.

Theology today takes place "in a nervous atmosphere of conflict and polarization in which everything immediately is classified as right or left, conservative or progressive," he said.

But the danger cannot be allowed to frighten people from studying and investigating the truths of the faith and their modern applications, he said.

"The church needs the service of theologians, undertaken with competence, quality and creativity so that her true face may shine forth," he said.

At the same time, the Jesuit superior said, serious attention must be given to those who stray because "the church cannot renounce its right and obligation to warn the faithful about errors or about possible erroneous interpretations" in new theological works.

Both magazines asked Father Kolvenbach about the declining number of Jesuits in the world, and he told both that the situation is a combination of demographics -- mainly smaller families -- and the new opportunities for church service presented by lay movements.

At various moments in history, Father Kolvenbach told Il Regno, different religious orders have arisen to highlight particular aspects of Jesus' own ministry, "sometimes the Lord in prayer and sometimes the poor Lord, or the Lord preaching, the Lord in mission, the Lord who loves the poor, the Lord who teaches."

And, in the interview with Popoli, he pointed out that vocations flourish "in a fervent church, frequently where the church is persecuted and oppressed."

He quoted the British founder of the Boy Scouts, Lord Baden-Powell, who said: "I like my religion the same way I like my tea -- boiling."

"If the parish, the life of the church is not strong, fervent, warm, it cannot give rise to consecrated life or priestly vocations," he said.

"We should not expect much from a church that seems to be dying," the Jesuit said.

Father Kolvenbach said he expected the Jesuit general congregation, which will begin meeting Jan. 7 to elect his successor and outline future projects, to give the Jesuits new energy.

"Mediocrity has no place in the world vision of Ignatius," he said.

Father Kolvenbach, who said he expects his provincial to assign him to work in Lebanon, where he was before his election as superior, also highlighted the importance the Jesuits have given to interreligious dialogue.

"If humanity does not want to condemn itself to death, there is no path other than dialogue," he said.

In imitation of God who is permanently in dialogue with humanity, he said, Christians always must take "the first step toward the other, despite any discouraging experiences."

He said the Jesuits, like the church itself, believe dialogue can take four forms: living together with openness and acceptance; joint action to build a better world; explaining each other's religious experiences; and dialogue between theologians.

Father Kolvenbach said that in the modern world -- often "a desert without God" -- it is important that believers, firm in their own traditions, share with each other and with the wider world the paths that can lead to faith.


12/05/2007 12:53 PM ET

Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops