Pedro Arrupe

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The Very Reverend
Pedro Arrupe
28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Installed 22 May 1965
Term ended 3 September 1983
Predecessor Jean-Baptiste Janssens
Successor Peter Hans Kolvenbach
Ordination 1936
Personal details
Birth name Pedro de Arrupe y Gondra
Born (1907-11-14)14 November 1907
Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain
Died 5 February 1991(1991-02-05) (aged 83)
Rome, Italy
Buried Church of the Gesù, Rome, Italy
Nationality Spanish
Denomination Roman Catholic
Alma mater Complutense University of Madrid
This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Arrupe and the second or maternal family name is Gondra.

Pedro Arrupe SJ (14 November 1907 – 5 February 1991) was a Spanish Jesuit priest who served as the twenty-eighth Superior General (1965–83) of the Society of Jesus.

Education and training[edit]

Pedro Arrupe attended school at the Santiago Apostol High School in Bilbao. Later he moved to Madrid to attend the Medical School of the Universidad Complutense. There he met Severo Ochoa, who later won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. One of his teachers was Juan Negrín, a pioneer in physiology, who would become Prime Minister of the Spanish Republic during the Civil War (1936–1939).

After some years of medical training, Pedro Arrupe joined the Jesuits in 1927 but was unable to pursue his studies for the Ministerial Priesthood in Spain due to the Order having been expelled by the Republican government of 1932. Accordingly, the young Arrupe did his studies in the Netherlands and Belgium before being ordained in 1936. Following his ordination to the Presbyterate, Arrupe was sent to the United States of America where he completed a doctorate in Medical Ethics.[1]

Japan - Hiroshima[edit]

After his doctorate, Arrupe was sent to work as a missionary in Japan. His early years as missionary were very frustrating for him. No matter what he did, what he organised, people did not attend, and few if any converted to Christianity. When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred in Hawaii on 7 December 1941, it was 8 December in Japan. Arrupe was celebrating the Eucharist for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception when he was arrested and imprisoned for a time, being suspected of espionage. On Christmas Eve, Arrupe heard people gathering outside his cell door and presumed that the time for him to be executed had arrived. However, to his utter surprise, he discovered that some fellow Catholics, ignoring all danger, had come to sing him Christmas carols. Upon this realization, Arrupe recalled that he burst into tears.[2] His attitude of profound prayer (he would later describe this as one of his most transforming spiritual periods), and his lack of offensive behaviour gained him the respect of his jailers and judges, and he was set free within a month.

Arrupe was appointed Jesuit superior and novice master in Japan in 1942 and was living in suburban Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell in August 1945. He was one of 8 Jesuits who were within the blast zone of the bomb, and all 8 survived the destruction. Arrupe described that event as "a permanent experience outside of history, engraved on my memory".[1] Father Arrupe used his medical skills to help those who were wounded or dying. The Jesuit novitiate was converted into a makeshift hospital where between 150 and 200 people received care. Arrupe recalled, "The chapel, half destroyed, was overflowing with the wounded, who were lying on the floor very near to one another, suffering terribly, twisted with pain".[3] In 1958, Arrupe was appointed the first Jesuit provincial for Japan, a position he held until being elected Father General in 1965.

Prior to being elected Father General, Arrupe made a visit to Latin America and, on one occasion, was celebrating the Eucharist in a suburban slum. He was deeply moved at the devotion and respect the people had for Christ in the midst of their abject poverty. After the service, a man invited Arrupe to his hovel, where he told him that he was so grateful for his visit and that he wanted to share the only gift he had, that of watching the setting sun together. Arrupe reflected, "He gave me his hand. As I was leaving, I thought: 'I have met very few hearts that are so kind.'"[4]

Father General[edit]

At the thirty-first General Congregation (GC XXXI) of the Society of Jesus in 1965, he was elected the order's twenty-eighth Father General, and served in that post until 1983. Pedro Arrupe was only the second Basque to be Father General, the first being the founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola himself.[5] Jesuit Vincent O'Keefe, a friend and advisor to Arrupe, said Arrupe was "a second Ignatius of Loyola, a refounder of the Society in the light of Vatican II."[this quote needs a citation]

At the thirty-second General Congregation (GC XXXII), which convened in 1975, Arrupe's dream of working for the poor was crystallised in the document (Dec "Our Mission Today: the Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice". It stated: "Our faith in Jesus Christ and our mission to proclaim the Gospel demand of us a commitment to promote justice and enter into solidarity with the voiceless and the powerless."[6] Thus, the decree basically defined all the work of the Jesuits as having an essential focus on the promotion of social justice as well as the Catholic faith. Arrupe was keenly aware that, in the political climate of the 1970s, the Jesuits’ commitment to working for social justice would bring great hardship and suffering, particularly in those Latin American countries ruled by military juntas.[6][5] For the Jesuits to tie their work so explicitly to the promotion of justice was a very bold move[according to whom?], and some[who?] felt it overly politicized the Society. A critic outside the Jesuits said that "one Basque founded the Jesuits, another one is going to destroy them".[this quote needs a citation] The decree was so hotly debated that it was not voted on until the last day of the Congregation, March 7, 1975, when it was accepted after a period of intense discussion by an overwhelming majority of delegates.[citation needed]

The Jesuit Refugee Service

Touched by the plight of the "Vietnamese boat people" in 1979, Pedro Arrupe sent cable messages to some 20 major Jesuit Superiors throughout the world sharing his distress at the suffering of these people. He asked them what they could do in their own countries to help bring relief to refugees and displaced persons in their own regions. He received a positive response, with numerous offers of personnel, medicine, and funding. The next year in 1980 Pedro Arrupe decided to set up a service to coordinate Society's refugee work, which was named the Jesuit Refugee Service. In a speech launching the service he said "Saint Ignatius called us to go anywhere where we are most needed for the greater glory of God. The spiritual as well as the material need of more than 16 million refugees throughout the world today could scarcely be greater. God is calling us through this helpless people."

Liberation theology[edit]

After the changes following Vatican II (1962–1965), there was tension within the Society as to how the life of a Jesuit was to be lived. While most religious orders in the Catholic Church have a particular focus (e.g. Redemptorists conduct retreats and the Alexians care for the sick) the Society has always used the talents of its members and encouraged them to be expressed, believing that God can be glorified in this manner; thus Jesuits are theologians, artists, writers, counsellors, scientists, missionaries, teachers, musicians amongst a whole host of other professions. This has always made it challenging for them to establish a single focus.[7]

In the late 1960s and into the 1970s some theologians in Latin America became increasingly involved in the political sphere, adopting Marxist positions. Many Jesuits in Latin America were at the forefront of this movement which was called liberation theology and concentrated on seeing Christ as the liberator, not only from sin, but from all forms of oppression. In its most extreme manifestations, liberation theology seemed to subordinate the message of the Gospel to political revolution, making the former simply a means to achieve the latter.[citation needed] Arrupe himself was even accused of leading the Jesuits astray.[6] The controversy led to the condemnation in the 1980s of liberation theology by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI), then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Arrupe (centre) with Jesuits in Ethiopia in 1976

On 20 June 1977 the White Warriors Union death squad threatened to kill all 47 Jesuits serving in El Salvador unless they abandoned their work with the poor and left the country within a month. After consulting with the Jesuit community in El Salvador, Arrupe replied "They may end up as martyrs, but my priests are not going to leave because they are with the people."[citation needed] A few months earlier, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, a proponent of liberation theology, was assassinated in El Salvador. On 16 November 1989, six Jesuits (Ignacio Ellacuría, Armando Lopez, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes and Juan Ramon Moreno, along with their housekeeper (Julia Elba Ramos) and her daughter (Celina), were murdered at the Jesuit University of Central America. Others also suffered martyrdom: the chief bishop in El Salvador Archbishop Óscar Romero (though conservative in respect to religion) was gunned down whilst celebrating the Eucharist on 24 March 1980. Lay missionary Jean Donovan, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel and Maryknoll sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford were beaten, raped and murdered by non-uniformed members of the Salvadoran National Guard on 2 December 1980. They joined some 75,000 Salvadorans who were killed during this troubled period. All the while, Arrupe continued to support and pray for those people who were willing to lay down their lives to help the poor initiate change.[4]

Later life, illness and stroke[edit]

On August 7, 1981, after a long and tiring trip throughout the Far East, Arrupe suffered a stroke just after his aeroplane landed at Rome's Fiumicino Airport. He was paralysed on his right side and was able to speak only a few words. This ability gradually deteriorated until he was completely mute. From that time on he lived in the infirmary at the Jesuit Motherhouse. He was the first Jesuit Superior-General to resign instead of remaining in office until his death. Pope John Paul II appointed Paolo Dezza as his personal delegate and interim Father General of the Society, passing over Arrupe's own choice (his vicar general). There was a wave of resentment in the Society as this was seen as unwarranted papal interference in Jesuit affairs. For his part, Arrupe never expressed any disagreement or resentment.[5] In 1983, Dezza called the thirty-third General Congregation to deal with the resignation of Arrupe and the election of a successor. Arrupe's resignation was accepted on 3 September 1983 during the Congregation and it proceeded to elect Peter Hans Kolvenbach as Father General. During the opening Session of the Congregation, Arrupe was wheeled into the hall, and a prayer which he had written 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. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God's hands.

During his ten years in the infirmary, praying for the Society, Arrupe received many and frequent well-wishers, including Pope John Paul II.

Death and burial[edit]

Arrupe died on 5 February 1991. His funeral was held in the Church of the Gesu, Rome, and was attended by crowds that filled the piazza outside the church. Also in attendance were 10 cardinals, 20 bishops, Giulio Andreotti the Prime Minister of Italy as well as other religious and civil dignitaries. His body, first interred in the Jesuit Mausoleum at Campo Verano, was brought back into the Church of the Gesu where it lies in a side chapel.


Pedro Arrupe memorial at the University of San Francisco, California, United States

Numerous buildings, schools and Jesuit communities have been named after Pedro Arrupe. They include:



External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Jean-Baptiste Janssens
Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Succeeded by
Peter Hans Kolvenbach