By Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
On October 24, 2016, in his address to the 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Pope Francis said, “just as Fr. Arrupe said, wherever there is pain, the Society is there or better said has to be there.”
In this one statement, Pope Francis not only reminded the Jesuits of the need and importance of their presence in the realities of today but also highlighted the rich legacy, which Fr. Pedro Arrupe has left to each one of us.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe, a deeply spiritual person, was consistently in the midst of pain and suffering. On August 6, 1945, Arrupe was in Hiroshima when the city was laid waste and thousands were killed in the nuclear holocaust. He made the Jesuit residence (where he was also the novice master) into a make shift hospital administering to those who were badly wounded. For several weeks, he selflessly cared for the dying and the wounded using his expertise as a medical doctor to the hilt. He would later often recall that horrific tragedy, encouraging people across the globe, to take a stand against nuclear warfare.
Years later, he said (remembering the Mass he celebrated on August 7, 1945, in the midst of the dying and wounded), “I was unable to move and remained as if I were paralyzed with my arms stretched out as I contemplated that human tragedy: human knowledge, technical advance used for the destruction of the human race. All looked at me with eyes filled with anxiety, with desperation, as though expecting that some consolation would come to them from the altar. It was a frightful scene!”
More than seventy years after that nuclear holocaust, Pope Francis, resonated with the stand of Fr Arrupe when in an address in the Vatican on November 10, to the participants of the International Symposium‘Prospects for a world free of nuclear weapons and for integral disarmament’ he said, “International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms. Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”
As the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr Arrupe presided over the 32nd General Congregation of the Jesuits, which mandated the Jesuits to take an unequivocal stand for the service of faith and the promotion of justice. This in a profound way was in keeping with Fr. Arrupe’s vision that if one were to be true to the spirit and message of Vatican II, the Jesuits had to work for a more just, inclusive and equitable ‘kingdom of God’ here on earth, which is people-centred and where the dignity and the rights of the poor and the marginalised are respected and protected.
In the late seventies, Fr. Arrupe was “struck and shocked by the plight of thousands of boat people and refugees” in South East Asia fleeing war and persecution.
In a letter addressed to the Universal Society on November 14, 1980, Arrupe wrote, “that this situation constitutes a challenge to the Society we cannot ignore if we are to remain faithful to St. Ignatius’ criteria for our apostolic work and the recent calls of the General Congregations”. He went on to add, “the help needed is not only material: in a special way the Society is being called to render a service that is human, pedagogical and spiritual. It is a difficult and complex challenge, the needs are dramatically urgent.”
In that same letter, he established the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) spelling out its primary aims and objectives. He wanted the Jesuits to “accept this letter and the request it makes in a spirit of alacrity and availability.” Besides service, accompanying the refugees and doing advocacy for them would be the core mission of the JRS.
For thirty-seven years now, JRS has responding to the cries of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), in almost fifty countries across the globe, providing them with the hope and the possibility of living a more dignified life.
Fr Arrupe was born on November 14, 1907. As a fitting tribute on his hundredth birth anniversary in 2007, JRS brought out an excellent little book ‘In the footsteps of Pedro Arrupe.’ The book encapsulates the vision of Arrupe, which has been the source of inspiration to hundreds of Jesuits, other religious and lay collaborators to respond “in a spirit of alacrity and availability” to the cries of refugees.
Our world today is in the threat of yet another nuclear holocaust. There is rising xenophobia, jingoism, hate, divisiveness, exclusiveness. The poor and the vulnerable continue to be at the receiving end of injustices and marginalisation. When Fr Arrupe died on February 5, 1991, he left the world a rich legacy: the commitment to a faith, which is rooted in justice; the courage to take a stand against all wars and violence, particularly nuclear warfare; and the compassion to embrace the refugees and all excluded.
As we celebrate the memory of Fr Pedro Arrupe on yet another November 14, we all need to do our best to walk in his footsteps; to be there where there is pain; and above all, to live his legacy in a substantial and meaningful way today.
(Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)