By committing the Society of Jesus to ‘the service of faith and the promotion of justice’, Fr Pedro Arrupe inspired many Jesuits, not least Peter McVerry, to dedicate themselves to meeting the needs of people who found themselves on the margins of society.
Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ is considered by many Jesuits, myself included, to be the “second founder” of the Society of Jesus. Like our original founder, St. Ignatius, he too was from the Basque country in Spain. Trained as a medical doctor, he worked in Japan and was there when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. This experience had a profound effect on him. It revealed to him that the dignity and value of each human being was no longer universally valued in our world and instilled in him a great desire to bring justice to our world. He was appointed in 1958 as the first ever Provincial of the Jesuit province of Japan.
At the 31st General Congregation of the Society in 1965, he was elected Superior General for life. This was a time of great change and renewal in the Church, beginning with Vatican II, and Pedro Arrupe led the Jesuits through probably the greatest renewal and change in their four hundred year history. In 1975, he convened their 32nd General Congregation. Its most famous document, Our Mission Today: the Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice, set a new vision for the Society of Jesus going into the future, a vision that identified the promotion of justice in our world as a defining characteristic of every Jesuit ministry and of the work of every Jesuit.
“The mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.” [Society of Jesus, Documents of the Thirty-Second General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, English Translation, Washington, 1975, n. 4, p. 17.]
It was this insistence that the poverty and injustice in our world is of fundamental concern to the followers of Christ that channelled and focused the mission of the Society from that time on. His conviction, that living the Gospel without a commitment to the promotion of justice in our lives and work is a contradiction, came to define the work of the Society. In this, he echoed the document produced by The Synod of Bishops, in 1971, “Justice in the World”, which had affirmed that:
“Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.” (No. 6)
He fully supported those Jesuits who chose to live in marginalized communities and who developed a theology of liberation. Although this created opposition and tensions within the Society and the Church, Pedro Arrupe was not for turning. His commitment to the poor was not just a theoretical one; he established the International Jesuit Refugee Service, a worldwide service supported by the Society which aims to help those who have had to flee their own countries or who have been displaced within their own country.
Pedro Arrupe was also a very charismatic person. I met him twice in Dublin when he visited the Irish Province, and his presence and talks reflected a deep peace which clearly derived from a strong belief in God’s love and providence. He had a tremendous effect on all who met him, even those who might not have supported his mission for justice. He was a true prophet.
Pedro Arrupe’s inspiration, his commitment to justice, and his support for refugees – the international homeless – led us to establish our work for homeless young people in Dublin, which we named the Arrupe Society. (We have recently changed the name to Peter McVerry Trust: this was a purely pragmatic change, as the name Pedro Arrupe is virtually unknown outside Jesuit circles, and we spent so much time trying to explain the origin of the name. One person thought the Arrupe Society was named after a North American Indian Tribe! We now refer to the “Peter McVerry Trust, formerly known as the Arrupe Society”. )
Pedro Arrupe was a man for his time. His deep faith, his vision, and his conviction that the Gospel of love demanded a strong commitment to justice, led the Jesuits through a time of change in the Church that was difficult, controversial and sometimes divisive. In this period of turmoil, Pedro Arrupe’s vision was a beacon of light and hope to many; his deep faith was a source of inspiration to all who knew him; and his conviction that working for justice was central to living the Gospel opened, for the Society, a clear and firm path into the future amidst the turmoil of change.