Arrupe canonisation cause launched

The ceremony for the opening of the cause for the beatification and canonization of Pedro Arrupe SJ, Father General of the Society of Jesus from 1965 to 1983, took place at the Basilica of St John Lateran, in Rome yesterday - 5th February, the 28th anniversary of Fr Arrupe’s death.

Pope Francis probably carries the laurels as the best-known, most beloved and yet controversial Jesuit of the last hundred years, but Fr Arrupe would be a close second.  Yet despite his huge impact on the Church, Fr Arrupe is little known outside the Society of Jesus.  This will change as the cause for canonisation gets underway.

Pascual Cebollada SJ, postulator of the cause, invited all Jesuit communities worldwide to celebrate the Eucharist on the same day.  People around the world were invited to participate in the opening session which was live-streamed.  In this way, “the whole Society of Jesus will be united in prayer on the occasion of the official opening of the process of his cause of beatification.” Jesuit communities in Britain participated, celebrating a community Mass for the cause.

Fr Cebollada said, “For many of us, from different generations, Fr Arrupe is an example of being rooted in Christ, a man of the Church, a man who follows the calling of the Holy Spirit and, without fear, made the decisions he needed to make because he was rooted in God.”

Former British Jesuit Provincial Fr Michael Campbell-Johnson SJ worked closely with Fr Arrupe both in Rome and Latin America.  He said, “My primary feeling when I think of him is of gratitude. I cannot thank him enough for the enormous effect that he had on what I did as a Jesuit and the influence that he, as General, exerted on the Jesuits. He was indeed the founder of the modern Society of Jesus!”

The process for canonization which has now been formally opened will involve compiling Fr Arrupe’s works, and hearing testimony from 120 people who remember him.  The report compiled will demonstrate that Fr Arrupe enjoys “the fame of sanctity,” i.e. that he is venerated as a holy person, and that there is at least one miracle attributed to his intercession.  It will then be submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints for consideration.   The final arbiter is the pope himself.

The legacy of Fr Arrupe

Fr Arrupe was born in Spain in 1907 and joined the Society in 1927, having abandoned medical studies after a profound conversion experience at Lourdes.  After ordination he went to Japan as a missionary and was Novice Master at the Jesuit novitiate in Hiroshima in 1945 when the atomic bomb destroyed the city. Fr Arrupe converted the novitiate into a makeshift hospital to care for survivors. His life and world view were profoundly affected by the experience. 

He was appointed Provincial of the Japanese Province in 1958.  Then in 1965, in the immediate aftermath of the  Second Vatican Council, the 31st General Congregation elected him Superior General. As Fr Cebollada commented recently to Crux,“When he was elected General he just said, ‘Okay, in the time of Ignatius it was [the Council of] Trent, now it’s Vatican II, so let’s go with Vatican II. This is my aim.. the mission I’ve received from the Church,’”

Fr Arrupe preaching at Farm Street in 1970Under his leadership at the 32nd General Congregation of 1974 the Jesuits whole-heartedly embraced the spirit of Vatican II, redefining their mission as “the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement’. This led to a new description of a Jesuit: ‘What is it to be a companion of Jesus today? It is to engage, under the standard of the Cross, in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice which it includes’.  Arrupe’s renewal of the Jesuits influenced many other religious orders and had a huge impact on the wider Church. For five three-year periods, he was elected Chairman of the Religious Congregations in Rome.   During the 1970s Jesuits became the intellectual and spiritual heroes of Catholicism’s liberal wing, but at the same time attracted criticism.

Arrupe visited Britain in 1970, touring to Glasgow and Loyola Hall in Merseyside, as well as spending time in London, where Heythrop College had just relocated from Oxford. During his homily, given at Farm Street Church in the presence of Cardinal Heenan, he said, “We need to innovate with fidelity, to make courageous decisions for the future while respecting the past but not being imprisoned by it.”

Arrupe’s final, and may be his greatest, initiative was to establish the Jesuit Refugee Service as a direct response to the crisis of the Vietnamese boat people in 1980.  He wrote, “The help needed is not only material: in a special way the Society of Jesus is being called to render a service that is human, pedagogical and spiritual.” JRS offices were established in the UK the following year and now exist all over the world. The need for their vital work accompanying those seeking safety and asylum has not diminished in the intervening decades.

In 1981, Arrupe suffered a debilitating stroke and was forced to resign. Pope John Paul II appointed the Italian Jesuit Paolo Dezza, who had been his teacher, as interim leader, rather than Arrupe’s own choice. Many saw this as unwarranted papal interference and an affront to Arrupe, which caused tension between the Vatican and the order. 

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, was a great admirer of Fr Arrupe, and has been to pray at his tomb in the church of the Gesù in Rome.

Please pray for the cause of Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ.

Read about Fr Arrupe's visit to England


Read Fr Campbell-Johnson's reflection on his memories of Fr Arrupe