Contact Us

Mystic with open eyes: Pedro Arrupe SJ

30 November, 1999

Arrupe would say: “See with the eyes of Christ, go wherever the need is greatest, serve the faith and promote justice as best you can, and you will find God!” Yet opposition to his vision, to his interpretation of the Ignatian charism, came from some Jesuits in Spain but also from Church leaders in various parts of the world. Brian Grogan SJ concludes his two part appreciation of this remarkable leader.

Fr. Arrupe had participated in the 1971 Synod of Bishops on the theme of Justice in the World, and faithful to the mind of the Synod, his dream was to focus all Jesuit talents, dreams and works on this single mission. He worked tirelessly with his fellow Jesuits for this, and in 1975 the 32nd General Congregation approved a decree on The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice and the intimate link between the two. He said later that the struggle to link faith and justice was one of the greatest changes for the Jesuits.

Struggles around renewal and change in the post-Vatican II Church were already going on amongst Jesuits at this time. For some the slogan was: ‘This is not the Society I joined!’

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.

From 1975 to 1980, Arrupe laboured on, a figure of hope to many, a man full of creativity and inspiration. From his personal knowledge of the world through his many travels, he saw that of all the people in the world, refugees were most at risk. Hence in 1980 he founded the Jesuit Refugee Service.

He wanted his men to be ready ‘to go where the need is greatest’ and to be available, mobile, and
flexible in order to identify with the unwanted of the earth. ‘To incarnate the Ignatian vision,’ he said, ‘we must get ourselves out of the concrete!’ He and his companions had been forced to do precisely this when expelled from their institutions in Spain in 1932.

Out of the concrete! Not that institutions are unimportant, but that we must serve those most at risk, those whom no one else is serving. Where the poor are, God is, for the poor are the friends of God. Arrupe always loved the poor, and they him. A destitute man once said to him, ‘Come with me and I will share something precious with you.’ They walked a distance, then climbed a hill, and the poor man said, ‘Sit here and I will show you the sunset!’

Difficulties emerged with successive Popes over his failure to keep his men in order, especially in relation to the teaching authority of the Church. These difficulties caused him agony, for his devotion to the figure of the Pope, and to the Church, was boundless. Though he tried hard, he was not a Vatican diplomat. In 1980, declining energy led him to offer his resignation. But the Pope told him to stay on for the present, for the sake of the Church and the Society.

Arrupe visited Ireland on a number of occasions, his final visit being in 1981, shortly before an exhausting visit to the Philippines, in which he presided at fourteen Eucharists and gave twenty-six addresses, always with the same inspiring and challenging message about availability to serve the cause of faith and justice, but in a way that is ‘rooted and grounded in love’. On his return to Rome from the Far East in August 1981 he suffered a massive stroke. It was on the thirty-sixth anniversary of Hiroshima that his own world was blown apart.

There followed ten dark years in the infirmary in Rome, 1981-1991. Increasingly unable to communicate, he grew feeble and suffered much inner darkness. He endured a sense that he had failed, despite his loyalty, in his relationship with the Holy Father. Though almost mute, he could follow what was said to him, and he felt marginalized, especially when the Pope appointed his own delegate, Paolo Dezza SJ, rather than any of Arrupe’s team, to prepare for the next General Congregation. This desolate decade of his extraordinary life came to a merciful end on 5 February 1991. He was eighty-three years old. His reflection of 1983, read to his brethren at the Thirty-fourth Congregation, reflects the heroic quality of a broken man:

‘More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. 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 God’s hands.’

Arrupe has been described as ‘a mystic with open eyes’. He gazed on our messy world as God does, the world of the atom bomb, of expulsions, imprisonments, tortures, world wars, clashes of ideologies, etc. He would say: See with the eyes of Christ, go wherever the need is greatest, serve the faith and promote justice as best you can, and you will find God! Across the world, women and men courageously try to live out this legacy.

Most of what Jesuits and their partners in mission do is hidden, but the legacy is also written in blood,
because the struggle for faith and justice is carried out under the Cross, and leads to conflict with dominant and powerful oppressors.

In El Salvador, after the assassination of Rutilio Grande SJ in 1977, he 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.’

There followed a threat by the government-assisted death squads: `We will kill all forty-seven Jesuits if they do not leave the country now!’ Arrupe replied: ‘They may end up as martyrs, but they are not going to leave, because they are with the people of El Salvador.’ He had consulted with his men before making this reply.

It is a strange coincidence that forty-seven Jesuits from twenty countries have died violently on mission in the thirty-three years between 1973 and 2006. The Arrupe legacy, then, is not for the faint of heart. It is, however, for those who know themselves to be weak, but, like Arrupe, put themselves into God’s hands and let God lead them where He will.

This article first appeared in The Messenger (April 2008), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.