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Anniversary of the birth of Pedro Arrupe SJ

  • 13 November 2020
Fr Arrupe preaching the homily at Farm St Church, January 1970, Photo credit: Jesuits in Britain

Fr Arrupe preaching the homily at Farm St Church, January 1970, Photo credit: Jesuits in Britain

Join us in celebrating the anniversary of the birth of Pedro Arrupe SJ.

Pedro Arrupe SJ was the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus. He led the Society during a time of great change in the aftermath of World War II and in the wake of Vatican II. He is noted for his spirituality and his extraordinary commitment to justice which transformed the Society of Jesus. 

Like Ignatius, he was born in the Basque region of Spain. He originally studied medicine before responding to the call to religious life.

In 1938, on the eve of World War II, he was sent to Japan where he hoped to spend the rest of his ministry. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941, Arrupe was arrested by the Japanese security forces and accused of espionage. During his month-long imprisonment, he was repeatedly interrogated and was certain that he would be executed. He was ultimately released. The experience fostered in him what he described as a deep inner calm and a radical trust in God.

Arrupe was reassigned to work as the master of novices. The novitiate was located in Nagatsuka, on the outskirts of Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, he heard the sirens wail as a single American B-29 bomber flew over the city. He did not think much of it and expected to hear the all-clear siren soon. Instead, he heard an enormous explosion and felt the concussion that blew in the doors and windows of the residence. He and his fellows went outside and from the nearby hill saw the city of Hiroshima consumed by the blast.

Calling on his medical training, Arrupe and his colleagues were able to give aid to victims. Using the meagre food and medical supplies that were available they cared for survivors without anaesthetics or drugs. They were unaware of the dangers of atomic radiation which meant that some of those they were treating had no external injuries but were none-the-less critically ill. The horrors that he witnessed made an indelible impression on Arrupe but did not dim his zeal for doing God’s work or his sense of joy.

In 1963 Arrupe was elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus, a position he held until 1983. In 1981 he suffered a stroke. An interim Superior General was appointed and Arrupe stepped down in 1983. He died in 1991.  

Pedro Arrupe was deeply impressed by his encounters with the poor and marginalised, particularly in Latin America. This was to influence his time as Superior General, leading to the establishment of the Jesuit Secretariat for Socio-Economic Development in 1969 (now called the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat) and the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1980.

The Superior General Fr Arrupe guided the Jesuits through the changes following the Second Vatican Council. He was passionate about the Jesuits making a commitment to the service of the poor. His work resulted in the Decree from the 32nd General Congregation, Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice

This emphasis on what has come to be known as the preferential option for the poor continues to shape the character of the Society of Jesus in the 21st Century. A testament to his far-reaching impact is the number of institutes, programmes and initiatives which bear his name. A quick search on Google yields nearly 900,000 references. 

Fr Arrupe is often identified as second only to St Ignatius himself in terms of his influence in shaping the Society of Jesus. His passion and commitment to all people exemplifies the centrality of caritas, the love of God which has no limits and invites us into a relationship with God and one another.