“Interracial Apostolate,” Pedro Arrupe (1967)

In November 1967, every Jesuit in the United States received the following letter from Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus. Arrupe issued this letter after conversations with Whitney Young (a leader in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States) and after the country experienced nearly 160 race riots in what became known as the “long hot summer of 1967.” Arrupe, in his letter, points to the “gravity of the current racial crisis in the United States” as a call to action. Arrupe sees such “riots and bloodshed” as but a “grim forewarning of the danger lurking” lest people took action. Thus far, Jesuit “service to the American Negro” had resulted from “individual initiative.” He demands new institutional and sustained efforts, and he calls on Jesuit schools to “make increased efforts to encourage the enrollment of qualified Negroes” and to provide them financial assistance. Arrupe finds the situation “embarrassing” and demands that “American Jesuits cannot, must not, stand aloof.”

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.




Dear Fathers and Brothers in Christ, P.C.

The gravity of the current racial crisis in the United States and its serious impact upon Christian doctrine and practice impel me to address this letter to you. I do so with a great sense of responsibility and after consultation with the American Provincials and other men knowledgeable in the field of race relations. The problem is urgent and complicated. It is not easy to put into writing what I would like to say to you, but I know you will read my words in the spirit in which they are written.


I. Problem of Social Discrimination

1. Christian Concept of Man

The racial crisis involves, before all else, a direct challenge to our sincerity in professing a Christian concept of man. Upon our response and that of like-minded men to this challenge will depend the extent to which the solution of the crisis will bear a Christian character. And this in turn will determine whether the crisis will develop into a great human achievement or a great human failure.


For the first time in their tragic history of constitutional slavery, of legal segregation, and now of social discrimination, the great body of American Negroes, with growing self-respect and self-reliance, are giving convincing signs of their determination to gain their rightful status as men and as full-fledged citizens. The successful pursuit of this objective will redound to the enduring credit not only of the Negro, but of all who struggle with him for the realization of human equality. On the other hand, if resistance on the part of a hostile white community, with extreme reaction on the part of more militant Negroes, defeats this effort, not only will an historic opportunity be lost, but a permanent fracture in the structure of national life will become an awesome possibility.


In the presence of such a crisis, the resources of upright men must be marshaled to insure that the rich potentialities of the movement for human rights be not squandered in destructive conflict. At this moment of desperate human need, what is the role of the Society of Jesus in her service to the Church and in her fidelity to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council? Is it not to inspire her sons so to labor, in cooperation with men of good will, as to make all phases of American institutions and practices an environment in which the human dignity and rights of all will be acknowledged, respected and protected?


2. Race and Poverty

Race relations and poverty are not necessarily and everywhere two aspects of the same problem. But, as a matter of fact, in the United States the problem of racial discrimination can hardly be considered apart from the problem of poverty. For it is especially among the hundreds of thousands of racially exploited that the poignant description of the poor by my predecessor, Father John Baptist Janssens, in his Instruction on the Social Apostolate, October 10, 1949, is distressingly verified.


In that Instruction, Father Janssens pleaded with us Jesuits to understand

What it means to spend a whole life in humble circumstances, to be a member of the lowest class of mankind, to be ignored and looked down upon by other men; to be unable to appear in public because one does not have decent clothes or the proper social training; to be the means by which others grow rich; to live from day to day on nothing but the most frugal food, and never to be certain about the morrow; to be forced to work either below or above one’s strength, amid every danger to health, honor and purity of soul; to be unemployed for days and months, tormented by idleness and want; to be unable to bring up one’s children in a decent manner, but rather to be forced to expose them to the common dangers of the public streets, to disease and suffering; to mourn many of them who, lacking the tender care which they need, have been snatched off by death in the bloom of their youth; never to enjoy any decent recreation of soul or body; and at the same time to behold about one the very men for whom one works, abounding in riches, enjoying superfluous comforts, devoting themselves to liberal studies and the fine arts, loaded with honors, authority and praise.


The poor are rightfully demanding fair participation in the benefits of scientific and technological progress. They are seeking earnestly for leaders who will enable them to secure their just share of the earth’s bounty—leaders who will deliver them from the misery of perennial poverty and free them to live in the fullness of human dignity. If, in this revolution of rising expectations, they cannot find in the free world the sympathy and the help they need, they may be tempted to turn to other leaders and to other systems inimical to Christian truths and democratic ideals.


3. American Problem

The riots and bloodshed accompanying racial strife in the United States have given us grim forewarning of the danger lurking in the land unless effective measures are taken, quickly and sincerely, to eradicate racial injustice and grinding poverty.


The principal groups upon whom the pressures of discrimination and poverty bear most heavily are the Negroes in every section of the country, the Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, the Puerto Ricans clustered largely in such cities as New York and Chicago, the American Indians living for the most part on reservations in the West, and the migratory workers who follow the crops according to seasonal demands. Because the Negro minority is the largest and most tragic victim, and is at the center of domestic concern, I will place special emphasis upon Negro-white relations, conscious of the fact that much of what I say is applicable to other groups victimized by discrimination and poverty.


The United States enjoys an acknowledged position in the free world. The Nation, therefore, carries a heavy responsibility to solve its problems of discrimination and poverty within its own borders in order that its efforts to contribute to their solution in other parts of the world be not mistrusted.



II. Principles and Ideals

4. American Ideals

Americans take justifiable pride in the political and in oral philosophy enunciated in the Declaration of Independence of 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration referred expressly to God, to the Creator, to the Supreme Judge of the World, and expressly committed the young nation to His Divine Providence. We rightly rejoice in this solemn deliberate affirmation of the politico-religious faith of the American people. But this politico-religious faith was not enough. These ideals were not self-executing. Racism spread throughout the body politic, both North and South.


In God’s Providence, however, a new and hopeful era in race relations has now dawned. The Supreme Court of the United States, in its justly famous decision in the School Segregation Cases, May 17, 1954, and in subsequent supporting decisions, has clearly and consistently held that compulsory racial segregation is irreconcilable with “equal protection of the laws,” and that every statute, official policy or official act of racial discrimination is unconstitutional. In so deciding, the Court has manifested its humility, its courage and its perseverance in the relentless pursuit of American ideals.


Following the leadership of the Supreme Court, the national Congress has recently enacted a number of laws, within its federal jurisdiction, to protect civil rights against racial discrimination and to foster equal economic opportunities among persons of all races. Moreover, many of the States, within their own legislative competence, have enacted anti-discrimination statutes in the fields of education, public accommodation, employment and housing. These are all hopeful and heartening advances in the long and painful struggle for interracial justice and charity.


I have alluded to the difficulties in the progress of race relations, from the Declaration of Independence to the present day, to point out a vital historical lesson. Principle does not guarantee practice. And this is true, not only of political principle, but of religious principle as well. For racism in all its ugly manifestations, whether by compulsion of unconstitutional statutes or by force of un-Christian practices, whether in public life or in private life, is objectively a moral and religious evil. As such, it can never be solved adequately by civil laws or civil courts. It must also be solved in the consciences of men. American Jesuits cannot, must not, stand aloof.


5. Religious Ideals and Fundamental Truths

The ideals of the Declaration of Independence, of human freedom and equality under God, are contained in the theology of the Church Universal. The dignity of human personality, the unit of the human race and the equality of all men are of the very essence of the Christian Gospel, which proclaims our common origin, our common purpose, our common redemption and our common destiny. These fundamental truths of our Faith demand and inspire supernatural love for every human being as a son of the Father and as a brother in Christ; and therefore, our supernatural zeal for interracial justice and charity. Hence, if we make a distinction between Negro and white and, on the basis of that distinction, act as though we owe the Negro something less in justice and charity than the white man, we do violence to the Christian concept of man.


Certainly it is unnecessary for me, in writing to my fellow Jesuits, to dwell at length upon the teachings of the Church concerning interracial justice and charity. These teachings are well known to you. Pope Paul VI, on October 29, 1967, stated: “The Second Vatican Council clearly and repeatedly condemned racism in its various forms as being an offence against human dignity ‘foreign to the mind of Christ’ and ‘contrary to God’s intent.’” The Holy Father was referring particularly· to the following passage in the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions:

We cannot in truthfulness call upon that God who is the Father of us all if we refuse to act in a brotherly way toward certain men, created as they are to God’s image. A man’s relationship with God the Father and his relationship with his brother men are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God.”

The ground is therefore removed from every theory or practice which leads to a distinction between men or peoples in the matter of human dignity and the rights which flow from it.

As a consequence, the Church rejects as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.


Concerning racial conditions in the United States, the American Hierarchy in its 1958 statement on Discrimination and the Christian Conscience emphasized the fact that “The heart of the race problem is moral and religious.” In concluding, the Bishops said:

For this reason we hope and earnestly pray that responsible and sober-minded Americans of all religious faiths, in all areas of our land, will seize the mantle of leadership from the agitator and the racist. It is vital that we act now and act decisively. All men must act quietly, courageously, and prayerfully before it is too late.

For the welfare of our nation, we call upon all to root out from their hearts bitterness and hatred. The tasks we face are indeed difficult. But hearts inspired by Christian love will surmount these difficulties.

Clearly, then, these problems are vital and urgent. May God give this nation the grace to meet the challenge it faces. For the sake of generations of future Americans, and indeed for all humanity, we cannot fail.


The truths of our Faith, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the statements of the American Hierarchy, are clear and compelling. Wherefore a critical question immediately arises: has the historical reluctance of American citizens to implement the Declaration of Independence, been sadly paralleled by a corresponding reluctance of our Society to implement the fullness of Christian doctrine?


It is chastening to recall that, before the Civil War, some American Jesuit houses owned Negro slaves. It is humbling to remember that, until recently, a number of Jesuit institutions did not admit qualified Negroes, even in areas where civil restrictions against integrated schools did not prevail, and this even in the case of Catholic Negroes. It is embarrassing to note that, up to the present, some of our institutions have effected what seems to be little more than token integration of the Negro. It is salutary for us to reflect upon these facts.


It is true, of course, that in the history of the American Assistancy, Jesuits have distinguished themselves in laboring faithfully and effectively with many minority groups. We in the United States have a long and proud record of work with the American Indian, and with the Irish, the Italian, the German and the Slav immigrants of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the present time Jesuits are prominently identified with the Puerto Rican apostolate in the New York metropolitan area, and Jesuit activity for the Mexican-Americans in El Paso is worthy of special commendation.


Nevertheless, our record of service to the American Negro has fallen far short of what it should have been. Indeed of recent years, there have been great pioneers like· Fathers John LaFarge and John Marko, and others who followed them. These American Jesuits, despite misunderstanding and even opposition, sometimes within the Society itself, have accomplished heroic things in their work with the Negro. But unfortunately our apostolate to the Negro in the United States has depended chiefly upon individual initiative and very little upon a corporate effort of the Society. In the era of mass immigration from Europe to the United States, our men gave outstanding service to the exploited poor, to whom they were bound by ethnic and religious ties. But in the intervening decades, as the immigrant groups advanced economically, educationally, politically and socially, the Society of Jesus tended to become identified more and more with the middleclass, white segment of the population.



III. Jesuit Involvement

6. The Reasons for Failure

It would be wholesome practice for each of us, individually and as members of Jesuit communities, to examine our consciences and to inquire why so little of our effort in the past has been expended in work for and with the Negro. Permit me to suggest some possible answers: a failure to appreciate fully the practical implications of the Christian concept of man; an uncritical acceptance of certain stereotypes and prejudices regarding the Negro, acquired in youth and not effectively eradicated by the training in the Society; the insulation of far too many Jesuits from the actual living conditions of the poor, and hence of most Negroes; an unconscious conformity to the discriminatory thought and action patterns of the surrounding white community; an unarticulated fear of the reprisals sometimes visited on those who participate in the active Negro apostolate; the mistaken notion that, since other priests and religious are serving the Negro, we may exempt ourselves from the obligation of contributing a major effort to the struggle for interracial justice and charity; a lack of sufficient comprehension that, while the Society of Jesus is committed to the service of all mankind, it is especially committed to the service of Christ’s poor. Other considerations will undoubtedly suggest themselves to you from your own study and personal experience.


At the present time, however, I am happy to observe among us a quickening pace of apostolic concern for the Negro. Opportunities now being provided, particularly for the younger men throughout the Assistancy, to become personally involved in direct action with the Negro, are heartening signs that American Jesuits are becoming more aware of their Christian obligations. Moreover, the frequent public lectures on the race problem by Jesuits, the numerous articles on interracial justice in Jesuit publications, the growing stress on racial matters in the curricular and extra-curricular activities of Jesuit high schools, colleges and universities, are additional signs of this increasing awareness.


Nevertheless, when past and present accomplishments in the Interracial Apostolate are duly acknowledged, it remains true that the Society of Jesus has not committed its manpower and other resources to that apostolate in any degree commensurate with the need of the Negro to share in our services. The considerably less than sufficient social performance of our Jesuit scholasticates, parishes, retreat houses, high schools, colleges and universities, can be summed up in our past failure adequately to realize, to preach, to teach and to practice the Christian truths of interracial justice and charity, according to our Jesuit vocation.


7. The Spirit of Poverty

We must look to the future. First of all, our apostolate must be soundly predicated upon our personal and collective testimony to the real poverty of Christ. The needs of the world and the condition of the poor constitute a mandate and an incentive to remodel our own living standards. Ignatian love of poverty should inspire us so to act “that our entire apostolate is informed with the spirit of poverty.”


Before turning to others for assistance, is it not time for us to reconsider ways and means of reducing our personal and community expenses and thereby to assist and identify ourselves with Christ’s poor? I am confident that your traditional kindness and generosity will not fail in this regard. It will be a test of our sincerity in loving the poor Christ. “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”


8. Policies for Jesuits

Lest my letter appear to be a mere enunciation of general principles and adverse criticism, I deem it advisable to draw up the following directives as indicative of the course which Jesuit thought and action should take in attacking the twin evils of racial injustice and poverty in the United States.

1. In coordination with the Sociological Survey now in progress, the Provincials with their consultors, and local superiors with their communities, should seriously reassess their ministries, manpower and other resources, in order to discover how their potential can be focused most effectively upon the grave problems of race and poverty. This potential should then be utilized, vigorously and courageously, in the service of Christ’s poor.

2. All our younger brethren should be thoroughly trained, from the novitiate onward, in the principles of social justice and charity. Accordingly, with proper regard for the demands of their academic formation, priests, scholastics and brothers should be given the opportunity to gain personal experience in confronting the practical problems of the inner city and of racial discrimination. Superiors should bear in mind the necessity of developing genuine experts in race relations.

3. The fact that there are extremely few Negro Jesuits in the United States is a cause of concern. Negro vocations should not only be conscientiously fostered but, if necessary, special opportunities should be given to Negroes to prepare themselves for entrance into the Society.

4. In explaining Christian doctrine, we should teach interracial justice and charity as an integral and vital part of our Catholic faith and commitment. In all our ministries, practices reflecting a pattern of racial segregation or discrimination, however subtle or pragmatic, should be totally eliminated.

5. In high schools, colleges and universities, we should make increased efforts to encourage the enrollment of qualified Negroes, and the establishment of special programs to assist disadvantaged Negroes to meet admission standards; special scholarship funds and other financial assistance should be solicited for this purpose. We should use our influence to conduct or sponsor conferences, seminars, workshops, lectures and the like, concerning such problems as open-occupancy housing, equal-employment opportunity, merit promotion, health services, sanitation conditions, and urban rehabilitation. We should urge the establishment in colleges and universities of institutes of human relations and of urban affairs, by means of which such institutions can become intimately involved, through research and action programs, with the renewal of the metropolitan areas in which they are located. As is being done in many places, specific programs involving students in personal contact with, and in personal service to the people of the inner city, should be promoted as recognized extra-curricular activities. Moreover, serious consideration should be given to the feasibility of permitting Jesuits to teach on the faculties of Negro colleges and of inner-city high schools. Finally, we should use our influence that qualified Negroes be recruited· for services on the faculties and administrative staffs of Jesuit institutions.

6. In our parishes we should earnestly strive with our parishioners to make the Negro genuinely welcome, and to help him participate in every way in the fullness of parish life. The Christian doctrine of social justice and charity, with specific applications to the race problem, should be a frequent subject in our pulpits.

7. In our retreat houses the Spiritual Exercises should be conducted in such a way as to promote social as well as individual morality, and thus to inculcate integral Christianity. This approach is of great importance since many, if not most, of our retreatants are in a position to advance, or to retard the development of social justice and charity in the professions, in business, in labor unions, in politics and in general public acceptance. It is hardly necessary to repeat that a racially segregated admission policy cannot be tolerated, for any reason, in any of our retreat houses.

8. In our sociality work we should make special efforts to inspire our sodalists with apostolic zeal to break down the un-Christian barriers of racial prejudice and discrimination, and to undertake specific action programs to deepen their commitment and to increase their effectiveness in this apostolate.

9. In the signing of contracts for the purchase of goods and services, we should take particular precautions to patronize only those business firms and construction companies which have adopted, and actually observe, the canons of fair employment practices.

10. We should seek to cooperate with the many efforts being made by sincere, intelligent and courageous people, Catholic and non-Catholic, believer and non-believer, who are making substantial contributions to the cause of interracial justice and charity. Therefore, as circumstances indicate, we should be at the service of such organizations as the diocesan commissions on human relations, the diocesan interracial councils, and the various inter-faith and non-religious groups which are laboring devotedly and effectively for this common objective.


9. Practical Program

In addition to these more general directives, and in order to increase their effectiveness, I wish to indicate a specific procedure.


In the near future, the Fathers Provincial will appoint advisers in each province whose duty it will be to draw up, in the light of provincial and community discussions, specific recommendations as to how each province or region can best respond to the general directives above. The resulting recommendations should be submitted to the Provincials before their 1968 Spring meeting.


Among these recommendations, I suggest, first, that there be a report on the practicality of establishing with ecclesiastical approval a separate Jesuit residence in a poor Negro section of one or more of the major cities in each province. Those who would live in such a house would be prepared to lead lives of poverty accommodated to their neighborhood, in order to make the humble and poor Christ present among those whom they serve and among whom they live.


Secondly, there would be a proposal on the feasibility of appointing a full-time Director of the Interracial Apostolate for each province or region.


Those who would be assigned to the Interracial Apostolate should be prepared for it by intensive training courses in the particular problems of the inner-city. Thus they would be conditioned intellectually and psychologically to meet with understanding and compassion the spiritual and material needs of the poor.


It would be my hope that such inner-city residences would be in actual operation before the end of 1968.


10. Conclusion

In closing allow me to assure you that I understand clearly the difficult challenge which faces us. I recognize that some will have to re-examine their racial attitudes and bring them into conformity with the teachings of the Church. I realize further that the apostolate I have outlined may arouse adverse reactions in some quarters outside the Society. I am aware of the possibility of a lessening of financial assistance to the ministries in which we are now engaged. I know that the faithful exercise of this new ministry will require deep dedication and persevering zeal. Courage of a high supernatural order will be indispensable for the sacrifices we must make in realigning our manpower and resources to meet the crying needs of our brothers in Christ who languish in racial degradation and inhuman poverty.


But in the zealous and persevering labors of this apostolate there will be the great consolation of hastening a new era in which all men will have well-founded hope of living in the fullness of their God-given dignity. In meeting this challenge we will bear living and visible witness to the validity, the integrity, the credibility and the relevance of the Christian message, in a world increasingly skeptical of the sincerity of Christians, if not of Christianity itself.


Finally, we Jesuits must be convinced that our work in the Interracial Apostolate will be effective only to the extent that it is transfused with the spirit of Him who said: “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another.”


Devotedly in Christ,

Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

General of the Society of Jesus


Rome, the Feast of All Saints

November 1, 1967



Original Source:

Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “Interracial Apostolate,” pg. 13–27.