November 27, 2018 — Last Wednesday, after it was announced that there are plans to launch the sainthood cause of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, who led the Jesuits as their superior general from 1965 until 1983, I started working on a “Five Great Pedro Arrupe Quotes” list. (As an internet writer like me is wont to do.)
Here was the first quote I found: “Nowadays the world does not need words, but lives which cannot be explained except through faith and love for Christ’s poor.”
The world does not need words, I learned as I was Googling around to find Fr. Arrupe’s words. Oops. A list of quotes was out.
Instead, maybe it makes more sense to reflect on Fr. Arrupe’s legacy and what it means for us today by focusing on the second half of that quote: The world needs witnesses, lives defined by their faith and their love of the poor. Fr. Arrupe was a very fine writer and speaker to be sure, but he is so revered for his leadership of the Society of Jesus during the turbulence of the 1960s and beyond because of his vision of a faith that led to concrete actions in pursuit of justice in the world.
So, here’s the list I’m going with: “Three inspirational ways Pedro Arrupe put his faith into action.”
1. He accompanied Japanese Christians during World War II and cared for victims of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast.
Before serving as the Jesuits’ superior general, Fr. Arrupe spent 27 years as a missionary in Japan, starting in 1938. Right after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Fr. Arrupe was arrested and imprisoned for over a month because government authorities suspected him of espionage. The Christians he had been accompanying in his ministry were so devoted to Fr. Arrupe that they came to his prison cell to sing Christmas carols he had taught them, risking their own imprisonment.
“I was unable to contain myself. I burst into tears,” he wrote later, so moved by their display of compassion and solidarity.
Four years later, while living on the outskirts of Hiroshima, the devastating atomic bomb blast shattered the windows of Fr. Arrupe’s residence and shook the building. Drawing on medical training he had received before entering the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arrupe and his Jesuit companions cared for about 150 people who had suffered bodily injuries and the mysterious, largely invisible symptoms of radiation poisoning.
Pope Francis, a great admirer of Fr. Arrupe, often talks about the need for Christians to follow the example of Jesus and go to the “peripheries,” those edges of society where people are often forgotten or ignored. Fr. Arrupe also used that word, and he lived it: His care for Japanese Christians despite the incredible risks — a world away from the power centers of Catholicism in Western Europe — is the definition of going to the peripheries.
His example makes me wonder if I integrate quality time with those living on the peripheries into society into my own faith life deeply enough. Sometimes, I think I’m too content to stick to comfortable, familiar places. Not Fr. Arrupe, who might one day be a patron saint of leaving your comfort zone.
2. He founded Jesuit Refugee Service.
Drawing on his own experiences on the peripheries, and moved to compassion by the plight of Vietnamese people fleeing violence in their homeland on perilous boat journeys on the open sea, Fr. Arrupe used his position as superior general of the Society of Jesus to push for the creation of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), which was founded in 1980.
Individual encounters on the margins led him to work to change systems of oppression, using the Society of Jesus’ institutional resources to respond to Christ’s call to “welcome the stranger” on a large scale. Today, JRS serves hundreds of thousands of refugees in over 50 countries and works in legislative advocacy to fight for public policies that are more hospitable to refugees and asylum seekers. When we spend time with those who are suffering, and when we take just a few minutes to contact our elected officials in collaboration with JRS to lobby for more just migration laws, we’re following Fr. Arrupe’s lead.
3. He surrendered to God during his own great personal suffering.
A 1981 stroke left Fr. Arrupe badly debilitated, leaving him unable to continue in his leadership role. He resigned his position during a gathering of Jesuit leaders called a General Congregation. He was wheeled into the meeting hall, and, unable to speak, his final address was read aloud.
“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,” he wrote. “It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.” The address was met with “thundering applause and a torrent of tears.”
The stroke sapped Fr. Arrupe’s incredible energy and prevented him from continuing his work as the superior general. But his illness didn’t take away his faith-filled leadership ability, as he modeled for his brother Jesuits — and for all of us — reliance on God in the midst of great personal suffering. It’s one thing to say we trust in the Lord when all is going well; it’s quite another to truly live in trust when things go badly.
Whether he was caring for victims of an atomic blast, founding an international humanitarian relief organization, resting in the peace of Christ during his own illness, or serving the church and the world through countless other actions of selfless love, Fr. Pedro Arrupe was a leader and disciple worth emulating.