Padre Nico next door: A tribute
The recent passing of Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, former superior general of the Society of Jesus, deservedly occasioned tributes from his Jesuit confreres and people who knew him from all over the world, for he was an extraordinary man with an equally extraordinary heart.
Padre Nico struck me as a welcoming person, friendly to a fault, with a humility that was embedded deep into his being. Moreover, he had wisdom due to his varied experiences, and an inquisitive mind that probed diverse social issues. He was an authentic critical thinker with depth, whose missionary vocation broke barriers.
What I would like to share is a modest tribute to a great man, from a former Jesuit scholastic who considers him the embodiment of the Jesuit idea of “a companion.”
Padre Nico occupied Room 505 in the corner of the fifth floor of the East Asian Peace Institute, and each time I would be hosted there for a few nights each December for the annual “Waging Peace” gathering during the early 2000s, I was assigned Room 504. It was thus ever so briefly that I came to know Padre Nico, my neighbor next door.
Because I had studied and lived for a decade in Latin America and Padre Nico came from Spain, we made it a point to speak in Spanish while taking walks during evenings after meals, and during breaks of the annual gathering of peace advocates in the campus.
Conversing while walking seems to be in the Jesuits’ blood. It was certainly so in Padre Nico’s case. He enjoyed the evening breeze that one felt while walking under the ancient acacia trees that dotted the campus. But for a man with wide experience in Asia and the Pacific who would later become the moderator of the Jesuit Conference of Provincials for Eastern Asia and Oceania, he was also a man intent on listening.
He asked questions about the peace process in the Philippines, the conflicts then in Sri Lanka, East Timor, Burma, Fiji, and elsewhere in other parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East—areas that Alert, our peace-building organization, was interested in. He wanted to explore the origins and causes of human rights violations in Colombia and Peru, countries that I had worked in when I was with Amnesty International.
Padre Nico was a man of no pretense. He was soft-spoken and gentle, friendly and open. I was to find out, when he was designated the superior general of the Jesuits in Borgo S. Spirito in Rome, that he was also a kind and loyal friend even when he had his plate full and the mission would involve harnessing the worldwide resources of the largest group of religious men anywhere in the globe.
From Alert headquarters in London, I would send him the reports and publications of the organization on different countries in conflict and on emerging conflict issues, such as the climate crisis that created climate refugees in different parts of the world. And he would find time to acknowledge them.
Once, after a trip to visit the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace facilitated by Gerard O’Connell, then already a veteran Vatican correspondent, I made a call to a Filipino Jesuit who worked at the Borgo S. Spirito, where the Jesuit superior general stayed. Even on short notice, Padre Nico found time for a cup of coffee and a brief exchange of greetings.
Padre Nico, the “man with a soulful countenance” that was somehow gladdened with a gentle smile, had the rare gift of making friends with people of different backgrounds and generations. This “companion of Jesus” possessed a warm, welcoming spirit that knew no boundaries, and an inquisitive mind that asked all kinds of questions, because he wanted to be more and do more for others: “Magis!”
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Ed Garcia is a former Jesuit scholastic collaborating with a group of former Jesuits in the Philippines — or XJs — on a compilation of stories to be titled “Companions!”.
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