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Pedro Arrupe’s path to sainthood

The Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Fr. Pedro Arrupe SJ, 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, was opened on Tuesday 5 February, 2019. The first session was presided over by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, in the Aula della Conciliazione, near St Peter’s in Rome.

Fr. Pascual Cebollada, is the postulator of Fr. Arrupe’s cause. He asked Jesuit communities all around the world to celebrate Mass that day in thanksgiving for the life of their former Superior General on the 28th anniversary of his death. In doing so, h said, “the whole Society of Jesus will be united in prayer on the occasion of the official opening of the process of his cause of beatification.” The event itself was broadcast live around the world through online streaming.

The process for canonization involves hearing the sworn testimonies of those who knew Fr Arrupe, as well as the examination of his writings – he left behind him a small library of his own material including talks and addresses. All the information gleaned will be evaluated. Once that is done all the documentation will be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints who will proceed with the cause.

Brian Grogan SJ, is an Irish Jesuit who has written a short book on the life of the former Father General of the Jesuits. It’s entitled Pedro Arrupe SJ: Mystic With Open Eyes, just published by Messenger Publications. In it, Brian Grogan recounts the significant biographical details of Fr Arrupe’s life including his witnessing of a miracle cure in Lourdes which was the catalyst for him joining the Jesuits in 1927. But Brian does issue a caveat to the reader. “It is important from the outset to emphasise what made him [Fr Arrupe] tick, lest we get lost in his struggles and achievements and miss the ‘secret scripture’ of his long life.”

Father Arrupe was born in the Basque region of Spain in 1907. After some years of medical training, he joined the Jesuits in 1927. He was sent to Japan on mission and arrested by Japanese security forces after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. They thought he was a spy. He was kept in solitary confinement and was convinced that he was going to be executed. He was in fact released, but the whole experience filled him with a deep inner calm that was rooted in a radical trust in God.

In 1945 the Americans dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Father Arrupe was master of novices at the Jesuit novitiate on the outskirts of the city. Despite warnings to the contrary he went with his fellow Jesuits to try and assist the stricken people, and saw the city “turning into a lake of fire.” He made the novitiate into a makeshift hospital and using his medical knowledge, (he had studied medicine for a number of years before joining the Jesuits), cared for some 150 victims of the horrific bombing.

Pedro Arrupe was elected Father General of the Society of Jesus on May 22, 1965, shortly before the end of  Vatican II. He had to lead the Jesuits through that challenging and turbulent period and its aftermath. In his book, Brian Grogan references the fact that Father Arrupe has been referred to as the ‘founder of the Jesuits’. This is because, according to Brian, “he donned the mantel of Ignatius [the original founder] and reclaimed the original charism of the Jesuits in the light of the Second Vatican Council.”

Fr Arrupe’s priority was that the Jesuits address the needs of the poor and his work resulted in the decree from the 32nd General Congregation, Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice, passed in 1975. This led the Jesuits, especially in Latin America, to work in practical ways with the poor. This was dangerous work and many Jesuits around the world lost their lives. In El Salvador in 1989, six Jesuits, and their housekeeper and her daughter, were murdered by state forces. But the Jesuits continued their justice work with the poor, with Arrupe’s support.

Fr Arrupe was also deeply concerned about the plight of refugees, and he set up the Jesuit Refugee Service which is active in many countries to this day serving the millions of refugees in dire need around the world. In the area of education, Fr Arrupe’s belief in a ‘faith that does justice’ led him to see that the task of Jesuit educators was to form ‘men and women for others.’

In the forward to Brian Grogan’s book, Peter McVerry SJ, who has been working with homeless people in inner city Dublin for over 40 years, says the implications of Fr Arrupe’s mission, “changed my life”.  He says there was a lot of opposition to this mission in the Society of Jesus as a whole. “The [Irish]Province, like the wider Society, went through a time of change that was difficult, controversial and sometimes divisive. But there was no turning back.”

In 1981, Father Arrupe suffered a debilitating stroke and was forced to resign. In a controversial move, Pope John Paul II suspended the normal workings of the Jesuit Constitutions, removed the acting leader of the Society, and appointed an interim superior himself. These were difficult times for the Society of Jesus. The interim superior remained in place until the 33rd General Congregation in 1983. Father Arrupe was wheeled in to its opening session and his final prayer was read to the community. “More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.”

Father Pedro Arrupe died on 5 February 1991. Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, has prayed at least twice at Arrupe’s tomb in the church of the Gesù in Rome. According to America Magazine, in a recent article about the opening of the canonisation process, the Pope makes no secret of his admiration for this holy and charismatic leader. “If the process moves forward smoothly and rapidly, Francis could be the pope who beatifies him,” they conclude. Time will tell.