A man of God, a man of the church

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Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe, superior general of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983, is pictured in an undated photo. The sainthood cause was formally opened in Rome at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran Feb. 5, 2019, the 28th anniversary of Father Arrupe’s death.
CNS photo/courtesy Jesuits Global

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, an increasingly close collaborator with Pope Francis who has seen a meteoric rise to become his personal Vicar for Rome, opened the cause for canonization for Pedro Arrupe, S.J. on Feb. 5 in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. This decision was met with a fair amount of criticism from some quarters because of Arrupe’s priorities as leader of the Society of Jesus from 1965-83. While it was a certainly a period of tumult given the difficult process of reception and implementation of the Second Vatican Council, his predecessor Saint Ignatius Loyola faced similar contention in his lifetime 400 years earlier as the church sought to interpret the Council of Trent.

Arrupe’s life unequivocally changed the face of the global church, and included many profound elements worthy of veneration. An entire series of these articles could be devoted to his contributions. However, I can trace only a very few highlights here.

After receiving medical training in Spain, he served as a missionary in Japan where he was imprisoned for suspicion of surreptitiously aiding the allies after Pearl Harbor. A famous story recounts how the Japanese Christians he instructed risked their own detention by coming to the jail that December to sing to him the Christmas carols he had taught them. Years later he told others that he could not refrain from weeping in his cell at this public witness to their faith.

After the American attack on Hiroshima blew the windows out of his residence in the blast zone, he ministered to the physical and pastoralneeds of countless victims. The horror he witnessed influenced his theological perspectives for the rest of his life.

He became the first Jesuit provincial in Japan, until he was eventually called to serve as the Father General to the entire order in the years immediately following Vatican II. Arrupe was the first Basque native since Ignatius to hold the post.

Inspired by increasing globalization and the plight of the disenfranchised, he more than any figure of his age, sought to develop a “faith that does justice.” The desperation of Vietnamese exiles taking to the seas inspired him to found Jesuit Refugee Services, which today works for and with forcibly displaced persons in 52 countries around the world.

Pope John Paul II’s hesitancy about elements of the burgeoning liberation theology movement in Latin America caused some limited conflict with Arrupe’s vision of solidarity with the oppressed. However, it is famously remembered in Rome to this day that whenever Pope John Paul II’s entourage sped past Arrupe’s office at the Jesuit curia, he would go outside onto the Borgo Santo Spirito and kneel in the street as a sign of fidelity and filial affection for the Holy Father.

Arrupe suffered a debilitating stroke in August 1981. Eventually mute from its effects, the prayer he had read aloud at the Jesuit General Congregation following his resignation remains a profound testimony to absolute trust in the most difficult of circumstances:

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 died in 1991, and is today buried steps away from the founder of his order in the Church of the Gesú in Rome. Pope Francis famously visited the tomb to offer a silent prayer shortly after his election in 2013. There are many striking photographs of the two concelebrating Masses at various times throughout their lives, as Arrupe named Bergoglio provincial of Argentina during his tenure.

Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, PhD., teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.