105th Anniversary of Birth of Pedro Arrupe S.J.: A Second St Ignatius

This Wednesday sees the commemoration of the birth of Pedro Arrupe, (November 14, 1907 –February 5, 1991) who served an 18-year term as superior general of the Society of Jesus which began in 1965 at the end of The Second Vatican Council.

He was the first Basque to occupy this position since the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius of Loyola. (image left )

Comparisons between the two men, (and an uncanny physical resemblance too,) extended beyond their common homeland.  

Fr. Arrupe oversaw a renewal of the Jesuits so profound that he is revered by many as a “second founder, a second Ignatius.” 

I have been reading a lot about Fr Arrupe and his qualities are many :

He had charisma and was a great leader, he had resistance to adversity, generosity, and commitment to the poor, was keen to have a sincere dialogue with contemporary values, and a mysticism that was always embodied in a vivid reality of a preferential option to service of the most needy and poor. 

He had a remarkable ability to discern what  mission meant in the world today and he was and still is a truly inspirational man.

Arrupe led the Jesuits through their landmark Thirty Second Congregation, a meeting of representatives from all over the Jesuit world, held from December 1974 to March 1975. 

He was instrumental in promoting the famous “fourth decree,” which defined the modern mission of the Jesuits in terms of “faith that does justice”. In the words of this decree, “Our faith in Jesus Christ and our mission to proclaim the Gospel demand of us a commitment to promote justice and enter into solidarity with the voiceless and the powerless.” 

Image source

Arrupe’s belief that the gospel requires effective solidarity with a suffering world had roots in his early years as a priest. Before entering the Jesuits in 1927 he had studied medicine, but an experience of conversion had set him on a different course. After his ordination in 1936 he was assigned to Japan.

 On August 6, 1945, Arrupe was serving just four miles from the center of Hiroshima, close enough to be nearly blinded by the flash of the first atomic bomb and to feel the blast that sent the walls of the seminary crashing around him. The memory of that day and the suffering survivors whom he tended in the following weeks was present to him in each Mass he celebrated for the rest of his life. 

The compassion evoked by this experience developed over time into a conviction that ministry to oppressed and suffering peoples must not remain on the personal level alone. It was necessary also to promote structural changes in the world to alleviate the sources of oppression and violence. Thus, Arrupe was a pioneer in urging the combination of pastoral concern, biblical reflection, and social analysis. 

 On November 14, 1980 in a world dominated by ideology and repression, Jesuits moved to meet the humanitarian and educational needs of the Vietnamese boat people, and The Jesuit Refugee Service was born.  

  Today it is a truly international Catholic organisation working in 57 countries around the world with a mission to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced people.

You can read more on some of their current work here

and another great link here

Arrupe was aware that the Jesuits would suffer consequences for this new understanding of their mission, and he urged them to be prepared for criticism and even persecution. His concern was prophetic. Within three years, five Jesuits had laid down their lives in the pursuit of justice, and criticism was quick to follow. The Jesuits were accused of substituting politics for the gospel, and Arrupe was personally charged with leading the Society astray. 

On Sept. 7, 1981, while returning to Rome from a trip to the Philippines and Thailand, he suffered a massive stroke from which he would never fully recover.

 Pope John Paul II appointed a personal delegate to serve as interim superior of the Society. Arrupe’s own choice of vicar general was passed over, a fact perceived by many in the Society as a criticism of their beloved superior general. Arrupe himself never expressed any resentment. 

Two years later, with the election of his successor, he tendered his official resignation at the 33rd General Congregation. Unable to speak without difficulty, he prepared a farewell statement that was read to his brother Jesuits in his presence. It was received with thundering applause and a torrent of tears..
"In these eighteen years, my one ideal was to serve the Lord and his church…I thank the Lord for the great progress I have witnessed in the Society. Obviously there would be defects too - my own, to begin with - but it remains a fact that there was great progress, in personal conversion, in the apostolate, in concern for the poor, for refugees. And special mention must be made of the attitudes of loyalty and filial obedience shown toward the church and the Holy Father, particularly in these last years. For all of this, thanks be to God..............
 More than ever, I now find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have 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 totally in his hands."

Arrupe spent his final years entirely dependent on others for his daily care. Whereas he had once served God through bold and prophetic leadership, now it was through prayer and patient suffering. As always he set an example of the Ignatian discipline of “finding God in all things.” He died on February 5, 1991. "

This text above is adapted from:"All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time" by Robert Ellsberg  (New York: Crossroad, 1997)

                                                                             Image source

Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Societ...
Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In this warm tribute to Pedro Arrupe for the centenary celebrations of his birth in 2007, the new Jesuit Superior General, Father Adolfo Nicolás, (left) looked back on his various encounters with his predecessor, whom he always saw to be a “man on fire”.
"The first time I saw Don Pedro, I did not really meet him. It was in Madrid, in late 1952 or early 1953. I was 17, in my last year of high school. I had already decided to become a Jesuit. Pedro Arrupe gave a lecture on Hiroshima and the atomic bomb. It was mostly about his experience. The special auditorium was so packed that I had to sit somewhere on a stairway. Arrupe was the great missionary, a national hero, a man on fire.

Rocco Palmo at Whispers in The Loggia has a fine article from 2008 on Adolfo Nicolas S.J. with his personal memories of Fr Arrupe which can be read here.

But I've put some of my favourite parts below....

ROME 1970

"By 1970, he was already General. I was struggling through a doctoral thesis at the Collegio Bellarmino. The General traditionally spoke each year to the doctoral candidates. The first 30 minutes were the talk of a visionary. Magnificent and inspired: the signs of the times, the Post-Vatican Church, the challenges of an emerging new world.The second half of the talk was anti-climatic: he felt that he had to justify theologically what he had presented to us, but he could not.

As with Ignatius, vision and intuition went ahead of theology, thank God. After all, he had himself studied theology in the 1930s.


At the 1980 meeting of the Major Superiors, the high point was the celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Francis Xavier in Malacca. 

                                                 Francis Xavier church today Source

The stage was perfect, a roofless and dilapidated church with a dilapidated empty space where the body of Francis Xavier had lain, and from where it had been stolen (or so the story goes). Arrupe had gone through the years after General Congregation 32, with the misunderstandings and distrust with the Holy See they had brought. It had been rough sailing. In his homily he focused on the last months of Francis Xavier, on his experience of abandonment, failure and loneliness on Shangchuan Island. Francis was going nowhere. He experienced in his body the mystery of the Cross.

This homily gave us all a glimpse of Francis’ heart. It also took us into the Ignatian Spirituality that we had earlier seen and now saw incarnated in Don Pedro. It was also a prophetic anticipation of what was to come.

ROME 1984

I visited him in Rome three years later. I could see Francis Xavier on the shore looking at China. Don Pedro was still burning, eager to communicate, to inspire, to encourage, to continue his mission in each one of us. His warmth came through in spite of his inability to speak, his frustration at being in chains, the pain of the moment.

ROME 1987

I saw Don Pedro for the last time in 1987 during a Congregation of Procurators. We could not speak with him. His light was going away, although it took still another four years to dim completely. We could only witness his passion, passed in quiet, in prayer and in thanksgiving. We were seeing the end of a life of total consistency, of great love, of a dedication that knew nothing of conditions and reservations.

After the last visit that I heard this story. An old Japanese man who had received instruction and Baptism from a younger Fr Arrupe was sharing his memories: ‘I asked to be baptised, not because he was a good catechist; not because I understood what he said (in fact I understood close to nothing); not because he tried to pull me in…but because of the goodness of the person.

“If Christianity”, I told myself, “can produce such quality in a person, it will be good for me too”.’

Fr Arrupe's  friend Father O’Keefe, a native of New Jersey and a member of the New York Province of the Jesuits, served as a general assistant through the whole of Father Arrupe’s tenure. After Arrupe suffered a severe stroke in 1981, O’Keefe had responsibility for governing the whole Society of Jesus for a time.

Fr.O Keefe in an interview on Pedro Arrupe said this :

"People would say to Arrupe, Where is the Society of Jesus going? And he’d say, I don’t know. Well, they’d all rush for the exit. The faint of heart would collapse. But, Arrupe went on, God knows, and we have to hear from God. That’s why we have to be open to the “signs of the times,” John XXIII’s great concept. 

God is leading us today to live the Gospel in new ways. We have to be open to that, and ask God to enlighten us and follow his lead. We have help in our brothers and sisters out there and in the great events of our times. These are telling us something. 

We speak of being prophetic, he said; well, prophecy is not just about the future. The prophet is the one who can point out the finger of God in events, whether they are past, present or future. 

Prophecy is showing where God is active here. He would say, bring out the “God flavour” in things, show where God is present, whether it is in a good thing or a bad thing. You have to work at it...............

 "Arrupe had a wonderful sentence: “Nowadays the world does not need words but lives that cannot be explained except through faith and love for Christ's poor.” He felt that our lives should be so filled with this radical spirit of Jesus in the Gospel, that unless you have this faith, you think we’re crazy.

   It was a witness not of words but of lives. Arrupe was calling for a vital experience, a lively experience in faith, but also in a love of Christ’s poor. For Arrupe they went together, these two points—the faith and the poverty. To him they meant the whole thing."

More from Fr O'Keefe on the qualities of Pedro Arrupe in this video below

This Article from America Magazine on Pedro Arrupe on the occasion of his centenary date of birth November 14 2007, was written  by Kevin F. Burke, S.J., Academic Dean of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

An edited extract is below:


"Taking his cue from Vatican II, he urged Jesuits to rediscover their call to be “contemplatives in action.” For Ignatius and his companions this had meant “finding God in all things.” For Arrupe and the Society in the late 20th century it meant “reading the signs of the times” and finding God in a world marked by Hiroshima and Auschwitz, a world fraught with division, inequity and blind hatred. Before Vatican II Jesuits ran schools, sent missionaries to so-called mission lands and gave retreats. After Vatican II, with a renewed sense of discernment, Jesuits did these things in new ways.

‘A Mysticism of Open Eyes’

The “renewed sense of discernment” adopted by Jesuits under the inspiration of Pedro Arrupe seeks God’s will precisely in terms of the crucial historical realities of the day. As such, it underlies the spiritual stance that the German theologian Johann Baptist Metz calls “a mysticism of open eyes.” Writing in the shadow of Auschwitz, Metz uses this evocative phrase to capture the spirituality of the Beatitudes and the mysticism of Jesus unveiled by the Gospel’s passion narratives:

In the end Jesus did not teach an ascending mysticism of closed eyes, but rather a God-mysticism with an increased readiness for perceiving, a mysticism of open eyes, which sees more and not less. It is a mysticism that especially makes visible all invisible and inconvenient suffering, and—convenient or not—pays attention to it and takes responsibility for it, for the sake of a God who is a friend to human beings.

The God-mysticism of Jesus involves the possibility and actuality of finding God in the world. Significantly, both Metz and Arrupe insist that it is reality itself that opens our eyes to the One who transcends reality. Arrupe testifies to this in a poignant description of the first Mass he celebrated after the atom bomb exploded. He and several companions labored all night to enter the ruined city to help several Jesuits wounded and trapped by the rubble. Arrupe later wrote:

"At five in the morning, we finally arrived at our destination and began our first treatments on the fathers. In spite of the urgency of our work, we had first stopped to celebrate our Masses…. The external surroundings in which the holy sacrifice was being offered were not such as might promote sensible devotion. In turning around to say “Dominus vobiscum,”

I saw before my eyes many wounded, suffering terribly. While reading the Epistle and the Gospel, I had to be careful not to touch with my feet the children who lay so close to me. They wanted to see closely this stranger who was wearing such odd clothing and performing those ceremonies they had never seen before. In spite of it all, I do not think I have ever said Mass with such devotion."

Jesuit Education After Arrupe

The recovery of the Ignatian mysticism of open eyes transformed the way Jesuits approach education, their traditional apostolate. In a speech at Santa Clara University in 1982, Ignacio Ellacuría, the Salvadoran Jesuit who later suffered martyrdom, poignantly addressed this:

"Reason and faith merge, therefore, in confronting the reality of the poor. Reason must open its eyes to their suffering. Faith—which is sometimes scandalous to those without it—sees in the weak of this world the triumph of God, for we see in the poor what salvation must mean and the conversion to which we are called."

Ellacuría’s words drew their inspiration from his superior general. A decade earlier, in the famous speech cited above, Arrupe announced:

"Today our prime educational objective must be to form men for others; men who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ—for the God-human who lived and died for all the world; men who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbours; men completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce......

Jesuit education has always had an appropriate humanistic emphasis on excellence in the arts and sciences and attention to the education of the whole person. What it adds today is a commitment to praxis-based education, a special emphasis on education for justice and, above all, the promotion of education as a practical way to encounter the world and to find God in the world.

Rooted and Grounded in Love

The life story, the witness of heroic leadership and the sheer goodness of Pedro Arrupe give evidence of a man who found God in this broken world, a man who found God in others and a man who learned, above all, to trust love. This simple truth dominates Arrupe’s later writings, including his last major essay on Ignatian spirituality, “Rooted and Grounded in Love” (1981).  

Pedro Arrupe ended where he began, in love with God. That, above all, is why we celebrate him."

Some life giving words from Pedro Arrupe S.J.

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than
falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.

 Image source

Teach me Your Ways 

Teach me your way of looking at people:
as you glanced at Peter after his denial,

as you penetrated the heart of the rich young man
and the hearts of your disciples.

I would like to meet you as you really are,
since your image changes those with whom you
come into contact.

Remember John the Baptist’s first meeting with you?
And the centurion’s feeling of unworthiness?
And the amazement of all those who saw miracles
and other wonders?
How you impressed your disciples,
the rabble in the Garden of Olives,

Pilate and his wife

and the centurion at the foot of the cross. . . .

I would like to hear and be impressed

by your manner of speaking,

listening, for example, to your discourse in the

synagogue in Capernaum

or the Sermon on the Mount where your audience

felt you “taught as one who has authority.”

Pedro Arrupe 

Related Articles

There are several great personal Reminiscences of Fr Arrupe from the Irish Jesuit website here.

This is another article from America magazine titled "Seizing the Imagination" in which three Jesuits who knew Pedro Arrupe well were interviewed.

This is a long article and personal tribute to Fr Arrupe by Herbert Alphonso, S.J. Professor Emeritus Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome in 2007

There is a five-part documentary on Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ, now available online on the Jesuit Channel, which is sponsored by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.

Plenty more videos and other articles on Fr Arrupe can be found here at dotMagis Blog. 

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