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Vincent T. O'KeefeDecember 20, 1997

He would have been 90 on Nov. 14, 1997. The man we knew as Pedro Arrupe or, more affectionately, Don Pedro. His brother Jesuits, led by his successor as superior general, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. S.J., celebrated the day in a special way in the church of the Gesù in Rome. The ceremony had a disarmingly simple title: Commemoration of the Transferral of the Remains of Father Pedro Arrupe. S.J. In reality it was a family gathering of Jesuits and friends, including some members of Father Arrupe's family, who filled the church. All shared in a Eucharistic celebration that was simple, prayerful, joyful and very moving.

As Father Kolvenbach pointed out, it was a fitting occasion for us to thank the Lord for his wonderful gift of Father Arrupe to the church and to the Society of Jesus. Four Jesuits flanked Father Kolvenbach at the altar, evoking different stages of Father Arrupe’s Jesuit life: Ignacio Echarte, S.J., the current provincial superior of Loyola, Father Arrupe's original province in Spain; José María Maruri, S.J., and Giuseppe Pittau, S.J., his longtime associates in Japan; and I, who had been an assistant to Father Arrupe during his term as superior general from 1965 to 1983.

My thoughts kept drifting back to Feb. 5. 1991, when Pedro Arrupe died in his small, plain infirmary room after a long and painful illness of 10 years. We had gathered there day after day during the final week, and watched and prayed as life drained out of him. His body was waked in the church of our Jesuit curia for several days, and it seemed as though all of Rome passed by to pay their final respects.

His face had become utterly peaceful and composed and bore a striking resemblance to the death mask of Ignatius of Loyola. As I gazed at his face in profile, I recalled how Don Pedro loved to visit the rooms where Ignatius lived and died in the residence next to the Gesù. Before the feast of St. Ignatius on July 31 each year, he would take real delight in stealing away to spend three days there in prayer and reflection. He would laugh when 1 reminded him that he could not count on osmosis in this ease.

Father Arrupe's funeral liturgy in the Gesù church had been marked by an appealing simplicity. An open book of the Scriptures lay on top of the simple wooden casket that rested on the bare floor of the church. (At Pope Paul VI’s funeral in August 1978, in St. Peter's Square, a gentle breeze had played gracefully with a page of the Scriptures, also open upon his wooden casket.) When the final blessing had descended on Don Pedro's remains, a group of his brother Jesuits carried the casket out of the church. Their measured pace met its counterpoint, a spontaneous burst of applause, both heartwarming and heartbreaking, from the congregation.

Father Arrupe's body was taken to the Jesuit section of Rome's communal cemetery at Campo Verano. There it remained until June of 1997, when it was brought back to the Gesù, the burial site of many Jesuit superiors general over the centuries, to be placed in the Chapel of St. Joseph Pignatelli. The return, although a quiet and simple ceremony, was the result of a long and patient effort to obtain all the necessary approvals from the Italian Government. (Italy can produce as much red tape as it does great pasta.)

At the start of the Mass commemorating the return of Father Arrupe’s body to the Gesù, Father Kolvenbach set the appropriate tone. He invited us, as we gathered together in the name of the Lord on this feast day of St. Joseph Pignatelli, which was also the anniversary of Father Arrupe's birth, "to celebrate a Eucharist of thanksgiving and of praise, in affectionate and grateful recall."

The Scripture readings had been chosen with the lives of St. Joseph Pignatelli and Father Arrupe very much in mind. The first reading, from the Second Letter to the Corinthians (4:6-15) seemed especially fitting:

We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed: always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body.

Many in the congregation, aware of the life of Pedro Arrupe and how this reading applied to him, were visibly moved. The Gospel passage read at the Mass was from Mark (3:31-35). Jesus asks the people gathered about him: "Who are my mother and my brothers?" He replies: "Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother." Father Kolvenbach applied this text to St. Joseph Pignatelli and Father Arrupe: "Together with Father Jan Roothaan [superior general, 1829-52] who is buried in the same chapel, they are deeply united in the mission proclaimed in this evening's Gospel: to fulfill the will of the Father of Jesus and in this way to become the brothers and sisters of the Lord; to gather in one family all those who live, in their flesh and in their hearts, according to the will of God in Jesus."

Father Kolvenbach's homily was masterful in depicting the parallel traits that linked St. Joseph Pignatelli to Father Arrupe, and the both of them to St. Ignatius. “We are together this evening...to celebrate a man who is a saint (un uomo santo), Joseph Pignatelli, and a saintly man (un sant’uomo), Father Pedro Arrupe. Both served the church in troublesome and critical times for the life of Society of Jesus. St. Joseph Pignatelli, with great patience and loyalty, acted as a bridge between the suppressed Society and the restored Society. Father Arrupe, with courage and enthusiasm, carried out what the Second Vatican Council desired for the renewal of all consecrated life, and thus also for the Society.”

A word about Joseph Pignatelli. Born in Spain in 1737 of an Italian father and a Spanish mother, both of noble descent, he joined the Society of Jesus in Spain and was ordained a priest at age 25 in 1762. When Charles III of Spain expelled the Jesuits in 1767, Pignatelli was placed in charge of 600 Jesuits, who embarked in 13 ships from Tarragona for Civitavecchia, near Rome on Italy's western coast. Thus began an odyssey replete with physical hardships, heartbreaking rejections and endless wanderings that lasted 40 years.

After three difficult months at sea, the exiles were refused entry at Civitavecchia and also at Bastia in Corsica before finding refuge at Ajaccio, Corsica, where Pignatelli managed to house and feed them. This was the first demonstration of his legendary ability to provide lodging, food and work for his brother Jesuits in exile. When Corsica came under the control of France, the exiles had to put to sea again, since France had banished the Jesuits in 1762. On landing in Genoa, they learned that they could find asylum in Ferrara, a part of the Papal States. Pignatelli led his group of Jesuits, which had now doubled in size, on foot to Ferrara, 300 miles away. With the help of some of his relatives, Pignatelli managed to settle the exiles and provide classes and academic projects for them.

Then in 1773 the terrible blow fell. Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits in Ferrara were disbanded, and Pignatelli moved to Bologna, where he lived from 1773 to 1797, working for the restoration of the Society. He managed to remain in contact with a group of Jesuits still in existence in White Russia. When Ferdinand became Duke of Parma and wished the Jesuits to return, Pignatelli encouraged him to seek the approval of Pius VI for this initiative.

With papal permission, Ferdinand received approval from the Jesuit superior general in White Russia to have a vice province in Parma, attached to the Society in White Russia. Pignatelli joined the group in Parma, renewed his vows in 1797 and was named provincial superior of Italy by the superior in Russia in 1803. When the French occupied Parma in 1804, once again the Jesuits were expelled; but they found a home in Naples. Many former Jesuits joined them; and, with the authorization of Pius VII, Pignatelli presided over the restoration of the Society in Naples. In 1806 the French seized Naples, and the Jesuits were again dispersed. This brought Pignatelli to Rome, where Pius VII turned over the Gesù and the Roman College to them. From Rome Pignatelli directed the restoration of the Society in Sardinia in 1807 and opened colleges in Rome, Orvieto and Tivoli. He died in 1811, completely exhausted from his life of continual struggle in exile, three years before the restoration of the whole Society of Jesus by Pius VII in1814. Pius XI beatified him in 1933 and Pius XII canonized him in 1954.

Father Kolvenbach, in his homily, pictured Pignatelli and Arrupe as true successors of St. Ignatius Loyola. The ruling passion of Ignatius, he said, "was to search for and discern what God wants for the life of the world, not in any abstract sense, but very concretely, here and now, in the life of each individual, of the church, and of the world.

For Ignatius this meant following Christ who came among us to do the will of the Father in all things. It is only in this way that we can become servants of the mission of Christ. Then Father Kolvenbach made some applications: "In this search for the will of God, St. Joseph Pignatelli looked for what the Lord was saying to us by means of the sorrowful suppression of the Society and then what he wanted from a Society that was reborn. In the same spirit, Father Pedro Arrupe read and sought to read in the conciliar movement what the Lord was asking of our Society in these modern and demanding times.”

Father Kolvenbach had arrived at the heart of the matter. The congregation listened, rapt, as he discussed the common concern of these two Jesuits “to maintain a creative fidelity to the spiritual experience of Ignatius.” Father Kolvenbach said: “It is the same passion for the will of God that energized the love of these two companions of Jesus for the church, which they loved as the spouse of the Lord. When he is faced with the painful decision of the suppression of the Society, Pignatelli reacts with a loving patience and understanding because he has seen in it the will of God whose ways are not always our ways, but are, however, always for our salvation. Father Arrupe, too, was sorely tried in his love for the church because his efforts to renew the Society in the dynamic movement of Vatican 11 collided with misunderstandings, and with painful interventions on the part of the church which he loved with an Ignatian heart. Both entered into the mystery of a will of God that involves suffering for the life of the church, but which also entails at times the need to suffer with loving humility from the church.”

The mission of the Society of Jesus must always be in the church and for the church. Therefore, explained Father Kolvenbach, “despite their passionate love for the Society of Jesus, neither Joseph Pignatelli nor Pedro Arrupe considers the apostolic body of the Society as an end in itself. If they desire the restoration and renewal of the Society, its growth and apostolic well-being is for a mission that they want to receive from the Lord for and in his church. With Ignatius, both want to help persons ‘to meet their Savior and Creator.’ This explains their passion to be of help, above all, whenever the will of God in Jesus for the world is not yet known or badly known. To prepare the Society for this mission—the continuation of the mission of Christ—was the end and meaning of the lives of these two Jesuits whom we commemorate this evening.”

Father Kolvenbach’s homily, as powerful as it was brief, gripped and moved the congregation. Words and phrases from it kept running through my mind as the Mass continued. After members of Father Arrupe's family had brought the gifts of bread and wine to the altar, the liturgy of the Eucharist followed in a reverent, prayerful and joyous manner. The full-throated singing of the congregation revealed its vibrant mood. Just before the final blessing, Father Kolvenbach and the four concelebrants made their way to the Chapel of St. Joseph Pignatelli for a moment of silent prayer. Then came the final blessing, and it was over.

There was electricity in the air of the sacristy as we removed our liturgical vestments. A Basque television crew had filmed the Mass and was now asking for comments from us. It was clear that this had been no ordinary event. This was a day to savor and reflect on, a moment not to be forgotten, a defining moment.

Father Kolvenbach's happy phrase, “creative fidelity to the Ignatian charism,” struck just the right chord. It is a graphic description of the whole generalate of Pedro Arrupe. He embraced with all his heart and soul the call of the church in Vatican II to return to the original charism of the founder. His last public statement in 1981, before the stroke that disabled him, was the last of a series on that charism and was entitled: “Rooted and Grounded in Love.”

Don Pedro worked tirelessly to carry out Vatican II’s mandate for renewal and adaptation to the changed conditions of the times. Fidelity, for him, meant change. Instead of a wooden and mindless repetition of what we had always done, he promoted spiritual discernment to read the signs of the times, to find God in all things, especially in our brothers and sisters in need, and in the major events and movements of the day. That is precisely the meaning of “creative” fidelity. He had taken to heart the mandate given him in 1965 by the 31st General Congregation, the Society's legislative body: “In order that our Society may more aptly fulfill in the new age its mission under the Roman Pontiff, the 31st General Congregation has striven with all its power so to promote a renewal that those things may be removed from our body which could constrict its life and hinder it from fully attaining its end, and that in this way its internal dynamic freedom may be made strong and vigorous, and ready for every form of the service of God.”

Because of the consistency in his life between what he did and what he said, Pedro Arrupe had the great gift of making the vision of a truly Ignatian life, the life he articulated, not only credible but also infectious. And he did this both in the full vigor of his life and in the long years of silent and patient suffering.

Father Kolvenbach ended his homily with these words: “May St. Joseph Pignatelli and Father Pedro Arrupe unite us this evening in the bread that is broken and the blood that is shed, to celebrate the great paschal feast that God our Father has willed for our salvation, for the salvation of our planet, through the obedience of his Son.”

To which, I am sure, Pedro Arrupe would have added his favorite prayer: “Amen. Alleluia.”

More: Arrupe
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11 years 1 month ago
Fr. O'Keefe exemplified that same creative fidelity. When asked about a particular issue I saw in l968 he immediately referred me to the provincial who apparently took action to resolve it magnificently.
11 years 1 month ago
What a magnificently told and engaging history! The article itself is a prayer of sustinance, certainly inspired by the Holy Spirit, for all who seek to carry on the mission of Christ.
Eric Crump
11 years 1 month ago

"Both [Fr. Pedro Arrupe and St. Joseph Pignatelli] entered into the mystery of a will of God that involves suffering for the life of the church, but which also entails at times the need to suffer with loving humility from the church.”

An article that certainly speaks to situations in the Church today, and to those who struggle with her leadership. Something for me to pray about.

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