Latest news
Pedro Arrupe SJ

Pedro Arrupe

As Father General of the Society of Jesus for eighteen years, Pedro Arrupe navigated the Order in the years following Vatican II and focussed the efforts of the society on giving aid to the poor.

Pedro Arrupe was born in Bilbao in 1907. After finishing school there he moved to Madrid where he studied medicine at the Complutense University of Madrid. In 1927, at the age of twenty, Arrupe decided to enter the noviciate for the Society of Jesus. He was unable to complete his studies in Spain, however, as in 1932 the government expelled the Society from the country, and so he completed his religious studies in colleges in the Netherlands and Belgium. After this he travelled to America where he completed a doctorate in Medical Ethics.

In 1938 Arrupe travelled to Japan as a missionary. He struggled, finding the people he encountered by and large unreceptive to Christianity. This was in no way helped by the outbreak of the Second World War. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Arrupe was arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of espionage and kept in solitary confinement. In a touching display of humanity a group of fellow-Catholics gathered outside his cell door on Christmas Day, heedless of the danger they were putting themselves in, and sang Christmas carols to him.

Fr Arrupe was released not long afterwards, and he returned to his duties. In 1942 he was made a Superior and Novice Master for Japan. At the end of the war, he was in Nagatsuka, a suburb on the outskirts of Hiroshima. He was there when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. Arrupe and others headed into the city to aid those they could. The Jesuit noviciate which he was in charge of was turned into a makeshift hospital, and he used the medical skills he had learned in college to aid as best he could the sick and the dying. Fr Arrupe remained in Japan after the war, and he was appointed Provincial of Japan in 1958.

In 1965, at the 31st General Congregation, Fr Pedro Arrupe was elected Father General of the Society. It was his special insight into the meaning of faithfulness to the charism of St Ignatius, combined with his response to the pastoral vision of the recently-ended Vatican Council, which brought about a dramatic shift in the life of the Society. What Ignatius did was to go where the need was greatest. This, Arrupe saw, meant reading what Vatican II called “the signs of the times” and sending Jesuits into the areas that needed them; for example, education, the missions, academic life, spiritual direction, and the natural sciences. To be faithful to the Founder, then, meant not merely continuing to work in those same areas but imitating the impulse which took Ignatius there. Fr Arrupe understood that he had to read the signs of the times anew for his own age and identify where the greatest need lay. He took the core concern of the Council to heart. Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of Vatican II, begins: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ”. Hence Fr Arrupe placed heavy emphasis on social justice and working with the poor.

Fr Arrupe knew that there could be great danger to Jesuits in taking this path, but he felt certain that it was the road to which the Society was called.  When, for example, Fr Rutilio Grande SJ was murdered as a direct result of his work with the marginalised in El Salvador, Fr Arrupe wrote: “These are the Jesuits that the world and the Church needs today: men impelled by the love of Christ, who serve their sisters and brothers without distinction of race or class. Men who know how to identify with those who suffer, how to live with them to the point of giving their lives to help them. Brave men who know how to defend human rights to the extreme of sacrificing their lives, if it be necessary.”

From his personal knowledge of the world, Fr Arrupe saw that of all the impoverished people in the world, refugees often the most needy. Hence, on 14 November 1980 (his 73rd birthday) he founded the Jesuit Refugee Service.

The transition to this new sense of the Jesuit mission was not easy. In the words of best-selling author Brian Grogan SJ: “Opposition to Arrupe’s vision, to his gentle use of authority, to his openness to experimentation, to his interpretation of the Ignatian charism, came especially from some Jesuits in Spain, but also from Church leaders in various parts of the world. He became a sign of contradiction, and endured the painful tension between faithfulness to the Ignatian charism and adjusting the Society to the contemporary world in line with Vatican II.”

Fr Arrupe resigned his post in 1983, two years after he suffered a debilitating stroke. He was the first Father General to step down rather than serve until death. After the stroke Arrupe was forced to live in the infirmary in the Jesuit Motherhouse, and he remained there until his death in 1991.

A very popular prayer attributed to Fr Arrupe goes as follows:

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
than falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Brian Grogan SJ, whose life has been deeply influenced by Arrupe, has written Pedro Arrupe SJ: Mystic With Open Eyes. Arrupe’s story may be of particular interest to readers in light of the fact that the cause for his beatification has been recently opened. This year also marks the 50th anniversary when the former Father General led the Society in a commitment to promote “the faith that does justice”.