This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.
Day 18: Pedro Arrupe
By Renée Roden
Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, lived in the darkest moments of change – a nuclear bomb, a Cold War, the tendentious fallout of the Second Vatican Council, a violent acceleration in communications technology. But Arrupe knew that to respond to a devastated, dilapidated world with love would never fail to lead us to God. The prayer by Joseph Whelan, SJ, that is constantly (incorrectly) attributed to Arrupe, captures Arrupe’s belief that love is each human being’s “definitive and all-embracing dimension.”
Arrupe, the “second founder” of the Jesuits, was born in 1907 in the Basque city of Bilbao. He started medical school in Madrid in 1923. But after witnessing miraculous healings at Lourdes as a summer medical intern, he entered the Society of Jesus four years later.
In 1936, Arrupe was sent to minister at the Jesuit novitiate in Hiroshima, Japan. He was living at the novitiate when the United States dropped an atomic bomb, killing more than 100,000 innocent people. Arrupe put his medical training to use caring for the survivors who were so blistered and burnt their skin was falling off their muscles.
I first learned about Arrupe’s ministry at Hiroshima three years ago when I read Paul Ham’s blistering “Hiroshima and Nagasaki” while researching a play. I was surprised to find not only the Jesuit order at the center of the church’s response to these war crimes but Arrupe himself, on the ground, immediately responding to one of the most haunting and ominous violent acts of the 20th century. Arrupe said once that love for God must necessarily bear fruit in love of neighbor and in works of justice.
In 1965, Arrupe was elected the Superior General of the Jesuits, just as the Second Vatican Council closed. He led the Society through a tumultuous time of change. In a famous speech to Jesuits in 1973, Arrupe called upon the sincere seeking of the will of God as the Jesuit charism that leads to renewal and authentic evangelization in the new age: “Despite our historical limitations and failures, there is something which lies at the very center of the Ignatian spirit, and which enables us to renew ourselves ceaselessly and thus to adapt ourselves to new situations as they arise.”
We can look to the past for guidance, to tradition for a path forward; we have received a message passed down from generation to generation, but ultimately, we trust that the Holy Spirit will help us respond to the ever-changing crises of the world with the ever-present love of God among us and inside us. Together, we can be the body of Christ on earth — Emmanuel, here and now.
Reflection: Let us ask ourselves, as Arrupe would ask, how can we be men and women for others? How can we be bold in our love for God expressed in love for our neighbor – a love that seeks justice, not just charity? How are we called to live out the Gospel – not in an ideal life, a life our grandparents had or a life our parents wish we had, but in our own broken, complicated, messy life, here and now, today?
Renée Roden is a proud Midwest-New York hybrid. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s in theology from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in journalism from Columbia University. Among her favorite authors are Hans Urs von Balthasar, Annie Dillard and Rebecca Solnit. She lives at St. Francis Catholic Worker House in Chicago, where she tries to start off every morning with the London Review of Books and a cup of coffee.