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Kevin F. BurkeNovember 12, 2007

Nov. 14, 2007, is the centenary date of the birth of Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Many people--Jesuits and friends of Jesuits, women and men religious, lay Catholics and Protestant Christians, and adherents of other great religious traditions--feel a need to celebrate this anniversary. For all the diversity among them, their need to celebrate has a common root: deep love for a great man.

I share that need. When I edited Pedro Arrupe: Essential Writings for the “Spiritual Masters Series” published by Orbis Books, I noted in the acknowledgements that Arrupe was the superior general of the Jesuits when I entered the Jesuit novitiate in Denver in 1976. I added: “He was a hero to those entrusted with my early formation in the Jesuits and he quickly became my hero. More importantly, although I never met him personally, I count him among my spiritual friends and fathers in faith.”

Hale in those days and serene in holiness, Father Arrupe enjoined every Jesuit to engage the courageous questions raised by the Society’s 32nd General Congregation (1974-75) and to make its prophetic intuitions their own:

What is it to be a Jesuit? It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus as Ignatius was: Ignatius, who begged the Blessed Virgin to “Place him with her Son,” and who then saw the Father himself ask Jesus, carrying his cross, to take this pilgrim into his company. (Decree 2)

What is it to be a companion of Jesus today? It is to engage, under the standard of the cross, in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice which it includes. (Decree 4)

The congregation’s capacity for courageous prophecy ripened in the nourishing light of Arrupe’s leadership. He was, after all, the Jesuit general who opened his astonishing 1973 address, “Men for Others,” with the following rhetorical strategy and prophetic courage:

Let me ask this question: Have we Jesuits educated you for justice? You and I know what many of your Jesuit teachers will answer to that question. They will answer, in all sincerity and humility: No, we have not. If the terms “justice” and “education for justice” carry all the depth of meaning which the church gives them today, we have not educated you for justice.

From Hiroshima to Rome

Pedro Arrupe, S.J., (1907-91) assumed the duties of superior general of the Society of Jesus and became one of the most recognizable leaders in the Catholic Church in the years following the Second Vatican Council. He served as Superior General from 1965 to 1983 and during that time also served five consecutive three-year terms as president of the Union of Religious Superiors General (1967-82).

Not incidentally, his life experiences prepared him for such leadership in dramatic and dangerous ways. Sent into exile at the age of 24 when the Jesuits were expelled from Spain (1932), Arrupe studied in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States and eventually went to Japan to work as a missionary (1938). In the weeks following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, he was arrested on charges of espionage and kept in solitary confinement for 33 days. Tormented by uncertainty and in anguish for his small Christian flock, he later wrote that this “was the month in which I learned the most in all my life. Alone as I was, I learned the knowledge of silence, of loneliness, of harsh and severe poverty, the interior conversation with ‘the guest of the soul’ who had never shown himself to be more ‘sweet’ than then.”

When the first atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, Arrupe was master of novices in a suburb on the outskirts of the city. A medical student before entering the Jesuits, he responded to the extraordinary events unfolding around him by transforming the novitiate into a hospital and his novices into nurses. Together they cared for 150 people suffering from traumatic injuries as well as the mysterious burns and sickness associated with radiation poisoning. Without realizing it they were living at the center of a world-changing historical moment. Arrupe later recalled the disquieting experience:

At first, without electricity or radio, we were cut off from the rest of the world. The following day cars and trains began ar-riving from Tokyo and Osaka with help for Hiroshima. They stayed in the outskirts of the city, and when we questioned them as to what had happened, they answered very mysteriously: “The first atomic bomb has exploded.” “But what is the atomic bomb?” They would answer: “The atomic bomb is a terrible thing.” “We have seen how terrible it is, but what is it?” And they would repeat: “It’s the atomic bomb…the atomic bomb.” They knew nothing but the name.

In 1958 Pedro Arrupe became superior of all the Jesuits in Japan.

After the death of John-Baptist Janssens, general of the Jesuits, in October 1964, the 31st General Congregation met to elect his successor. On the morning of May 22, 1965, much to Arrupe’s surprise, the congregation elected him. A man whose life took shape in the midst of the great events of the time, who experienced exile, imprisonment, war and the dawn of the atomic age, now assumed responsibility for the largest religious order in the church at the very moment the church was asking itself anew how to engage the world.

The Challenge of Vatican II

In the early 1960s, still reeling from the aftershocks of the Second World War, the church asked itself how it could best respond to the changed world. That concern motivated Pope John XXIII to call the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and set in motion an extraordinary process of renovation in the church. Vatican II reshaped Catholic liturgy, renewed religious life and recovered the role of the laity. It transformed the way Catholics related to other Christians, other religions, secular society and even the world itself as “secular.”

Without seeking it, Pedro Arrupe found himself profoundly involved in these transformations. 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 neighbors; men completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.

A generation after Arrupe one sees evidence that the renewal has had a positive effect on Jesuit schools. Changes in curricula, the growing importance of immersion trips and community service programs, to say nothing of the founding of Jesuit Refugee Service under Arrupe (1980) and the promotion of Jesuit Volunteer Corps, reflect the shift to justice-centered evangelization characteristic of the Jesuit mission after Arrupe. 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). It can also be felt in his spontaneous words to a group of religious sisters, words that are among his most memorable:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, 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 will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who 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.

Finally, Father Arrupe’s capacity to trust God’s love wells up from the awesome silence that descended on the last 10 years of his life. On Sept. 7, 1981, while returning to Rome from a trip to the Philippines and Thailand, he suffered the massive stroke from which he would never fully recover. He resigned his office at the 33rd General Congregation (1983). Because of the effects of the stroke, he could not speak directly to his brother Jesuits, but his final address was read to them in his presence. It was received with thundering applause and a torrent of tears:

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.

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

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
16 years 8 months ago
I am a convert to the the Catholic Church and did not know of Pedro Arrupe until this article, but I have long been a student of the mystic tradition. Indeed, that was one of my attractions to Catholicism since Protestants had no knowledge of the mystics. I have found great encouragement within that tradition. This article about Pedro Arrupe is both a challenge and a delight. Thank you for bringing him into my consciousness.

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