Pedro Arrupe SJ: Rooted in Christ

POST BY DBlackledge

Pedro Arrupe SJ was working on the outskirts of Hiroshima when the bomb went off, on 6th August 1945. On the anniversary of this tragic event, Fr Denis Blackledge SJ reflects on the man whose future was determined by what happened on that date and whose cause for beatification was opened earlier this year.

Pedro Arrupe was born in Bilbao in 1907, the youngest of five children and the only boy. His mother died when he was nine and his father when he was twenty. Sensitive, bright and idealistic, he loved theatre, music and opera, and studied medicine. In 1926 he spent three months in Lourdes and witnessed a miracle when a young man with polio was healed. Pedro said at the time: ‘I sensed God very close and tugging at me.’

Instead of becoming a healer of bodies, Pedro became a healer of souls: he joined the Society of Jesus in 1927. He longed for mission in Japan and was sent there two years after his ordination, only to spend a month in solitary confinement, suspected of being an American spy. He wrote: ‘I believe that this was the month that I learned the most in all my life.’

He was working on the outskirts of Hiroshima when the bomb went off on 6 August 1945: he and the Jesuit novices took 150 wounded folk into their home. Pedro carried on working in Japan for the next twenty years, becoming Provincial Superior in 1958. And so when, in 1965, the Jesuits convoked their 31st General Congregation, Pedro was one of some 300 Jesuits from 30 countries present. On 22 May he was elected Father General, in charge of 36,000 men worldwide. He began his speech of acceptance with the opening words of the prophet Jeremiah, about being speechless, but ended with words from Paul about the all-mastering Lord who gives the strength needed for the task in hand.

Just as Vatican II was called by Pope John XXIII to breathe fresh life into the Church, so the 31st Jesuit General Congregation was called to highlight fresh ways of bringing the gospel to others. Pedro led this renewal. He stretched horizons regarding Jesuit education, with his phrase ‘men and women for and with others’, and lived through conflicts as the status quo was disturbed by the promotion of justice.

His living-loving relationship with God – he prayed some four hours a day – kept him rooted and centred, and his love of the eucharist was key. Never abrasive, Pedro was nevertheless forthright in what he wanted done, and at times it cost him dearly. He had not had experience of Vatican and Roman ways before he became General, and lines of communication with popes were not easy.

When, in 1980, Pedro offered to resign on the grounds of advanced age, Pope John Paul II asked him to carry on. In that same year Pedro set up the Jesuit Refugee Service, not least because of his shock at the plight of the two million Vietnamese boat people. JRS has become over the past four decades a dramatic symbol of and inspiration to the Society of Jesus.

On 7 August 1981 Pedro suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralysed and severely impaired his speech. Pope John Paul II appointed his own delegate to prepare for the 33rd General Congregation in 1983, at which Pedro’s resignation was formally accepted. Physically broken, but indomitable in spirit, he was to spend his remaining years as an invalid before he died on 5 February 1991.

In the words of Fr Pascual Cebollada SJ, postulator of Arrupe’s cause, ‘Fr Arrupe is an example of being rooted in Christ, a man of the Church, a man who follows the calling of the Holy Spirit and, without fear, made the decisions he needed to make because he was rooted in God.’

Denis Blackledge SJ

Read more: Mystic with Open Eyes, by Brian Grogan SJ (Messenger Publications, 2019).

This article was first published on JESUITS AND FRIENDS 103