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Joe Dargan reflects on Pedro Arrupe

Thank you, Pedro!

by Joe Dargan SJ

One of the great blessings of my life is to have known and been influenced in a deep way by Fr Pedro Arrupe. From 1966 until his death in 1991, Pedro Arrupe was an inspiration. Many saw him as ‘an eternal optimist’ who was always looking at the needs of all peoples in the world and responding to them in the light of the Gospel. He believed what Fr Teilhard de Chardin had said: “The only task worthy of our efforts is to construct the future”.

My first contact with Fr Arrupe was in June 1966. I was preparing to go to Rome to study Spirituality. The Provincial sent for me and asked if I would be very disappointed if I did not go to Rome. I replied, ‘Not particularly’. He then told me that Fr General wanted to do a world-wide survey of the needs of people in all parts of the world in which Jesuits were present, to see the needs in the light of Vatican II, to become more aware of what the Church was doing in response to the Council, and to point to what the Society should be doing – how we should be training or retraining Jesuits for this mission. It was only years later that I found out that this project had become clear to him very strongly and repeatedly during his first retreat as General of the Society in August 1965. The notes which he made during this retreat reveal the depth of his personal life with God and how he was being led by the Spirit.

I offer just three images of Fr Pedro Arrupe:

  1. As a vibrant personality full of warmth, energy and spontaneity
  2. In a wheelchair after his stroke in August 1981, being supported by Br. Rafael Bandera S.J., at an audience with Pope John Paul II, who was giving approval for the 33rd General Congregation to accept his resignation and elect his successor
  3. In his sick room, unable to do anything for himself but wait for God’s final call

1. Vibrant personality full of warmth, energy and spontaneity

In January 1981, I was visiting Fr Arrupe in his office on the fourth floor of the Jesuit Curia in Rome. He welcomed me very warmly. There was only one sheet of paper visible on his table. He picked it up and moved across the room to where there were easy chairs and a small table.

“ Fr Assistant has given me this list of topics about the Irish Province which we should talk about,” he said to me. “We will leave it aside, as I would like to talk about some other things.”

For the next hour he set me alight as he talked about the two major issues that the world would face in the near future: refugees and drugs. His enthusiasm and conviction were infectious. I had to do something about these. How prophetic he was. But also how inspirational.

During the 32nd General Congregation of the Society, before the delegates voted on the document “Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice”, Fr Arrupe asked to speak. Looking to the future, he said he wanted us all to realize that if we voted to have the document implemented by the Society we would lose friends and benefactors, we would be misunderstood by many people, even within the Church, and many Jesuits and co-workers would be murdered.

History has proved him right! On March 19th 1977, he wrote a letter to the whole Society on ‘Paying the price of the GC32 Commitment’. In it he paid tribute to five Jesuits who had been murdered, including Br. John Conway, a member of the British Province who was born in Ireland.

“These five were men of average human gifts, leading obscure lives, more or less unrecognized, dwelling in small villages and totally dedicated to the daily service of the poor and suffering. The Lord speaks to the Society through the pouring out of this blood, as through the blood of Abel, as through the blood of Christ on the Cross.”

On July 31st 1975, he addressed the Alumini of Jesuit Schools in Valencia, Spain. “Our prime educational objective,” he said, “must be to form people for others; people who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ”. That has changed the focus of all Jesuit educational apostolates ever since. But not without a struggle!

“Where there is no vision the people perish.” Fr Arrupe’s vision came right from the heart and he possessed the ability to share it with others who would make it their own.

Deeply Ignatian

Where did Fr Arrupe get his vibrancy, his vision and the power to abandon himself to God? The simple answer is to be found in a very deep interior life founded on the inspiration of Ignatius Loyola who led him to Christ and the Gospels. He had an overwhelming desire to be faithful to God’s urgings. “Let me feel,” he prayed, “as Ignatius did, your creative activity at every moment.”

At the end of an interview on Italian Television the interviewer unexpectedly asked: “Who is Jesus Christ for you?”

“Everything “ replied Fr Arrupe. “He was and is my ideal from the moment of my entry into the Society. He was and continues to be my way; he was and he still is my strength. Take Jesus Christ from my life and everything would collapse”

On September 4th 1983, the day after his resignation had been accepted by the 33rd General Congregation of the Society, Fr Arrupe was brought in his wheelchair to the chapel of La Storta, where Ignatius had had a vision. In a homily spoken on his behalf he spoke of how he had been sustained by God over the years: “A profound experience of the loving protection of divine providence has been my strength in bearing the burden of my responsibilities and facing the challenges of our day”

I still remember vividly the day Fr Arrupe was meeting a group of Provincials and said with great emotion and from deep within his heart: “The most creative activity you can ever be involved in is prayer.” It is not possible to read unmoved his private notes in which he describes his private chapel as a ‘mini-cathedral’: “ …not more than six meters by four… Source of incalculable force and dynamism for the whole Society; a place in which to ‘stay’ …; a room in which rest from labour is most industrious, where doing nothing is doing everything… It is cathedra and shrine, Tabor, Gethsemani, Bethlehem and Golgotha, Manresa and La Storta. Always the same, always different. If only these walls could speak! …. of a life consumed by love, crucified with Jesus, raised up to God as the victim which every day is offered on the altar’s sacred stone.”

Personal care of people

I experienced the personal care that Fr Arrupe had for Jesuits in a privileged way. When I was appointed Novice Master in 1968 I represented, through our Provincial, Fr Brendan Barry, that I had no training and I felt that Fr General should know this. A few weeks later I was invited to Rome for two weeks. Fr Arrupe said he would arrange for me to meet many people who were involved with the formation of Novices to meet me each morning. And I would begin with him. I was deeply taken by Fr Arrupe’s love and knowledge of everything Ignatian. And it was infectious. He also told me to take every afternoon off to see and enjoy Rome!

Over the next six months I was invited to take part in the first so-called ‘School for Provincials’, even though I was a Novice Master. I was also invited to a meeting Fr Arrupe had with the American Novice Masters.

Asked by Fr Jean-Claude Dietsch how many Jesuit names he could attach a face he replied: “Not to the names of all Jesuits! But, to give an example, of the two hundred and thirty-six members of the 32nd General Congregation, which assembled in 1974-75, I personally knew – and interiorly, if one may say that – more than two hundred of them. Thus, for the Superior General, that group did not resemble in any way a political assembly or a parliament. It was something entirely different.”

Simplicity and humility

Father Arrupe traveled throughout the Society. The 31st and 32nd General Congregations recommended this. My picture of him is travelling with a very small case – about a quarter of the amount of luggage that you are allowed today to bring into the cabin of an aircraft.

In January 1981, I was telling him about plans I had to bring the local superiors together in June for a Guided Retreat and Workshop on their call to be local superiors. To my amazement and joy he said: “Can I come to that?” He wanted to share with a group of local superiors a set of Guidelines he was preparing for the whole Society and to get feedback from them. He was always learning from experience and from others.

On that visit, two months before his stroke at Rome airport on his way back from the Philippines, he laid and blessed the foundation stone for the Nursing Care Facility in Cherryfield Lodge.

2. Confined to a wheelchair

The sight of Fr Arrupe in a wheelchair at the Papal Audience on February 27, 1982 was deeply moving. Pope John Paul II gave permission for the General Congregation to take place to accept Fr Arrupe’s resignation and to elect a new Fr General. The Pope said:

“It is well known that after the very dear Fr Arrupe had been stricken by illness, I deemed it opportune to appoint my personal Delegate and his Coadjutor, for the government of the Order and for the preparation of the General Congregation. The situation, undoubtedly singular and exceptional, suggested an intervention, a ‘trial’ which – and I say it with deep emotion – was received by the members of the Order in a genuinely Ignatian spirit.

“The attitude of the Very Reverend Superior General, especially in such a delicate situation, has been exemplary and moving. He edified me and you by his complete availability in regard to the directions from above, by his generous ‘fiat’ to the exacting will of God manifested in the sudden and unexpected illness and in the decisions of the Holy See. Such an attitude, evangelically inspired, has yet again confirmed that total and filial obedience, which every Jesuit should show towards the Vicar of Christ.

“To Father Arrupe, present here in the eloquent silence of his infirmity, offered to God for the good of the Society, I wish to express, on this occasion particularly solemn for the life and history of your Order, the thanks of the pope and of the Church.”

When the General Congregation took place on September 3rd 1983, Fr Ignacio Iglesias, SJ read Fr Arrupe’s message:

“More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I wanted all my life, from my youth. And this is still the one thing I want. 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 entirely in his hands”

3. Years in his sick room confined to bed: living the Paschal Mystery

Some years later, when Fr Arrupe was confined to bed, I visited him for about fifteen minutes. Being alone with him – at this point he was unable to speak but he could make some gestures – I thought of how feeble he was, and yet I was deeply moved. In fact, I wonder which Fr Arrupe affected me most – the vibrant visionary who stirred my imagination and spurred me on to do great things for Christ, the humble figure in the wheelchair only able to speak a few words in Spanish, or the feeble sick man who could only communicate through gestures.

In an autobiographical conversation he had with Jean-Claude Dietsch, who was in charge of the Jesuit Press and Information office in the Jesuit Curia, he talked about his life and, as if in a prophetic way, his illness and death:

“The entire book has been about the past. Thus it seems to me that this conclusion should have been written later, when the final years of my life would have slipped away – years which will inevitably pass. But at the end I will perhaps be no longer able to dictate my thoughts. How many years will there be, and how will they unfold? That is yet one more mystery in life. But it is certain that the end will come when one is least expecting it … like a thief. (Luke 12: 39-40).

“In reality, death, which is sometimes feared so much, is for me one of the most anticipated events, an event which will give meaning to my life. Death can be considered as the end of life or as the threshold of eternity; in both of these aspects I find consolation. In the first instance, as the end of life, it is still the end of a life which is nothing else than a path crossing the desert to approach eternity – sometimes a very difficult path, on which, as one’s physical strength diminishes, the burden of the years becomes heavier. Inasmuch as death is also the threshold of eternity, it involves the entrance into an eternity which is at the same time unknown and yet longed for; it involves meeting the Lord and an eternal intimacy with him. Like St Paul, I feel myself “torn in two ways; I desire to depart and be with Christ’(Phil.1:23), but ‘I do not refuse to work’, if I can be useful, so long as the Lord wills it.

“Eternity, immortality, beatific vision, perfect happiness it is all new, nothing is known. Is death a leap into a void? No, of course not. It is to throw oneself into the arms of the Lord; it is to hear the invitation, unmerited, but given in all sincerity, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; … come and enter into the joy of your master’(Matt.25:21); it is to come to the end of faith and hope in order to live in eternal and infinite love (1 Cor.13:8). What will heaven be like? It is impossible to imagine. It is ‘ that which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him’(!.Cor2:9). I hope it will be a ‘consummatum est’ – ‘all is finished’, the final Amen of my life and the first Alleluia of my eternity.

“Fiat, fiat. ( Let it be done to me, let it be done to me.)”

– Autobiographical Conversation with Jean-Claude Dietsch, S.J. June 1981

The ‘Magnificat’ of Father Arrupe

At the funeral Mass of Father Pedro Arrupe, Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach entitled his homily, “The ‘Magnificat’ of Father Arrupe”.

In it he said that Father Arrupe had to confess that there was within him an area that was hidden, or partly hidden, even from himself. “It is that intimite relationship between God (who is love and loves each individual in a different way) and the man, who from the depths of his being gives his response, a response that is unique, because it does not have, nor ever will have, another like it.” He called this hidden element “the secret of the Trinity’s wonderful love, which, when it so wills, bursts into the life of each one”. It was this which was expressed in the three-fold love which marked every act and word of Fr Arrupe: love of the Society, love for the Lord’s Church, love for Christ.

In June 1981, Father Arrupe read the pages which Fr Jean-Claude Dietsch had written after their conversations in 1980-81. Fr Arrupe added three pages which included the piece on death quoted above. He also wrote:

“In retracing all the steps of my life with their concrete details and exterior manifestations, I arrive at the same conclusion: That which is most important and most decisive in my life, that which characterizes it as most personal, cannot be communicated – either because it is a question of intimate experiences which cannot be translated into words, or because these experiences themselves have a value that is very personal and interior – and it is because something remains hidden that it is, precisely, a value.

“As I read these pages, I wondered if we should not start over again. But no, we would come up against the same obstacle and never achieve satisfaction. I resign myself to appear, on the one hand, better than I really am, since my most intimate limitations are not described, and on the other hand, less than I really am, since the most intimate part of my life remains unexpressed and unexplained. And furthermore, since it is a gift of God it does not belong to me.”