Three Inspirational Ways Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, put his Faith into Action

By Mike Jordan Laskey and PJ Williams

Sometimes referred to as the “second Ignatius,” Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, led the Jesuits as their 28th superior general from 1965 until 1983. In addition to hailing from the Basque region of Spain, like St. Ignatius Loyola (one of the founders of the Society and its first Father General), Fr. Arrupe challenged Jesuits to be men of action and go out into the world to better serve those in need. Fr. Arrupe would often say, “Nowadays the world does not need words, but lives which cannot be explained except through faith and love for Christ’s poor.” Fr. Arrupe wanted to remind those around him that the world needs witnesses, lives defined by their faith and their love of the poor.

Earlier this year, on February 5, 2019, the cause for Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s sainthood was opened. The day was significant in that it was the 28th anniversary of his death. The cause for sainthood is a long process that can take years.

While we do not know when we will call him St. Pedro Arrupe, we do have a rich history to look back on. This includes his time as the provincial of the Japanese Province after World War II, his leadership of the Society of Jesus during the turbulence of the 1960s and his personal faith, which led to concrete actions in pursuit of justice in the world.

We have taken this opportunity to write about three of the ways that he lived his life as a man for others, and ultimately, like a saint.

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 priest 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 more than 150 people who had suffered bodily injuries and the mysterious, largely invisible symptoms of radiation poisoning.

Fr. Arrupe was in Hiroshima in 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped. He used his medical school knowledge to care for more than 150 patients in the Jesuit novitiate that had been turned into an emergency hospital.

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 should make us wonder if we integrate enough quality time with those living on the peripheries of society into our own faith lives deeply enough. Are we too content, only sticking to comfortable, familiar places? Fr. Arrupe certainly was not and might one day be a patron saint of leaving your comfort zone.

2. He founded the 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 and unable to continue in his leadership role. Fr. Arrupe 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.”

Mother Theresa visiting Fr. Arrupe in Rome in 1982. After his stroke in 1981, Fr. Arrupe stepped down as the Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

The stroke sapped Fr. Arrupe’s incredible energy and prevented him from continuing his work as 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. As we pray for his sainthood, we ask Fr. Arrupe to pray for us.

Fr. Arrupe and Fr. Vincent O'Keefe, SJ

Fr. Vincent O'Keefe, SJ, was a member of the New York Province and a friend and advisor to Fr. Arrupe. As Vicar General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. O’Keefe stepped in to lead the Jesuits for a short period after Fr. Arrupe suffered his debilitating stroke. “The friendship between these two Jesuits ranks right up there with great Jesuit friendships in history going back, I believe, to the time of Ignatius,” said Fr. Jim Croghan, SJ, during his homily at the funeral Mass for Fr. O’Keefe in 2012. Fr. Croghan is a member of the USA Northeast Province and the grandnephew of Fr. O’Keefe. When asked what his granduncle might think of Arrupe’s canonization, he said, “I can imagine Vinnie and Arrupe talking about it in heaven and Vinnie needling Arrupe about it, since Vinnie was a great kidder. I imagine no one would be happier about it than Vinnie would be.”

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