Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., by Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
by Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Phil Daily Inquirer, 19 November 2007
Last updated 00:47am (Mla time) 11/19/2007

MANILA, Philippines - Excuse me if I devote my column today to a man whom I and so many Philippine Jesuits greatly admire and revere—Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. This month we celebrate the centenary of his birth.

It is not easy to measure the impact he has had on the lives not only of Jesuits but also of many others both lay and religious, men and women, Catholics and Protestant Christians and many others. Many simply sum up their affection for him by calling him Don Pedro.

I first experienced the Arrupe magic in 1976 when he summoned me to Rome to give me my marching orders as Provincial Superior of the Philippine Jesuits. I had never met him nor ever communicated with him, and so I guess he just wanted to size me up. It turned out to be not such a big deal after all because he was the easiest person to get close to.

But first, his background. He was Basque, and he grew to manhood in Spain. He cut short his medical studies to join the Jesuits. At that time the Society of Jesus in Spain was experiencing turbulence. Thus it was that Arrupe with many other Jesuits were expelled from Spain by the Republican government. Arrupe had to pursue his philosophical and theological studies in Belgium and the Netherlands.

After his ordination to the priesthood he was sent to the United States to pursue doctoral studies. But before he could complete his studies he was sent as a missionary to Japan in 1939. Father Arrupe was Master of Novices living in the urban outskirts of Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped.
Hiroshima was a turning point in modern world history. The war itself was also a turning point in the life of Arrupe.

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Arrupe was arrested on charges of espionage. He was kept in solitary confinement for 33 days. 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.”

Another turning point was to take place in 1965 when Father Arrupe was elected 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus. The choice marked the beginning of the post-modern history of the Society of Jesus. The direction would become clearer after Father Arrupe convened and led the 32nd General Congregation of the Society.

The General Congregation is the highest legislative body of the Society. It is summoned only in critical moments. In the Society’s more than 400 years, there have been only 34 General Congregations. (A 35th General Congregation has been summoned to convene in January next year.)

The 32nd General Congregation formalized the direction the modern Society was mandated to take in all its varied works—missionary ministry, general pastoral work, education, intellectual apostolate, media, the arts and everything under the sun.

Two key paragraphs from the decrees of the General Congregation sum up Father Arrupe’s own vision for the Society of Jesus.

First is his vision for the Society as an institution: “The mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement. For reconciliation with God demands the reconciliation of people with one another.”

Second is his vision of what a Jesuit should be: “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.”In the corner of the Jesuit world in which I live and work, an oft-quoted paragraph is one which Father Arrupe delivered to Jesuit alumni in Valencia, Spain. His audience included many who came from prestigious and wealthy families. What he expressed was his sub-vision of what Jesuit education should be.

He started by asking his audience if their Jesuit mentors had educated them for justice. He himself gave the answer: “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.’”

He then went on to explain what was expected of Jesuit education. “Today our prime educational objective must be to form men-and-women-for-others; men and women 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 and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.”

Formation of men-and-women-for-others— this is a continuing mission that is never finished.

What was Arrupe’s secret? He summed it up in one paragraph: “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.”