The resignation of Fr General Adolfo Nicolás on the first day of the 36th General Congregation was a profoundly moving event for all who witnessed this historic moment.
Eight years ago, Fr Nicolás had been elected by a General Congregation; now, in October 2016, he needed to present his request to leave office to another General Congregation. He spoke briefly, simply and humbly, about his poor health, his failing energy and his increasingly unreliable memory. The Society, he said, needs someone with more energy and health to lead it in the complex world we live in. He ended his speech and left the dais of the presider to thunderous, prolonged applause and the first of three standing ovations from the clearly moved delegates.
After Fr Nicolás had left the hall, the electors listened to further input, discerned, prayed, and then solemnly, silently cast their votes, placing their ballots one by one into a wooden box made for the Congregation. After the votes had been counted, Fr Nicolás was then called back into aula to receive the news that the Congregation had accepted his resignation.
His response was deeply moving in its brevity: “Thank you very much,” he said. “I know that you voted this way because you were thinking of the good of the Society, which is what we all want in this Congregation.” A second, sustained standing ovation greeted Fr Nicolás – now no longer Superior General of the Society of Jesus.
Finally, in the name of the delegates and the whole Society, Fr Federico Lombardi delivered a beautiful and substantial thank you speech, recalling Fr Nicolás’ numerous contributions to the Society during the more than eight years of his generalate. Among many other things, Fr Lombardi spoke of Fr Nicolás’ warmth and humanity, his infectious joy and good humour, his constant insistence on the universality of our vocation and mission, and the depth that must characterise our life, our reflection, and our response to apostolic challenges. At the end of this tribute, an icon handcrafted by Jesuit artist Fr Marco Rupnik was presented to Fr Nicolás. As Fr Lombardi came forward to embrace Fr Nicolás, the delegates, unable to contain their emotions, rose for a third standing ovation to express their gratitude, respect and affection for this generous, good man.
And so it ends. Fr Adolfo Nicolás, 29th Successor to St Ignatius, is no longer Superior General. In the days to come, we pray for openness and sensitivity to the Spirit of God, and for the interior freedom that is the condition of all real discernment, as the delegates consider whom next to call to the office of Superior General of this least Society of Jesus.
Fr Danny Huang SJ
October 3, 2016
Main photo: Fr Frederico Lombardi and Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr Adolfo Nicolás, before the start of the opening mass for General Congregation 36 at the Church of the Gesu on October 2, 2016. This was Fr Nicolás’ final mass as Superior General.
For daily updates on General Congregation 36, go to www.gc36.org.