“Relevance of the Society and its Apostolate in the World Today,” Pedro Arrupe (1971)

The Major Superiors Conference of India was held at Bombay, India, in April 1971. Pedro Arrupe participated in that meeting. The father general also delivered an address to a large gathering of Jesuits—including those who were attending the conference, members of Bombay Province, and others who traveled to hear the speech—at the St. Stanislaus’ School in Bandra. What appears below is an edited version of those taped remarks, which was approved by Arrupe. The text reiterates the four apostolic priorities that Arrupe had identified in a letter to provincials the year before.

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



I thought you would like some information about the role and the apostolate of the Society today, something that might serve as an inspiration for your life and work as Jesuits.



1. A Moving Target

Today, as you well know, the Society is at a very important moment of its history. In the four hundred years of its existence this moment is one of great opportunities, when we can delve deep into the charism of Saint Ignatius and busy ourselves with its practical application. This is no easy task, because our target though very definite, is not stationary but constantly moving. Circumstances of rapid change surround us on all sides and so we have to reflect constantly on our course of action and the application of our spirit.


Saint Ignatius said that the Society was founded for the service of the Church—“servitium Ecclesiae sub Romano Pontifice—and this remains true of the Society even in these times when the Church and the world are undergoing so much change.


Changes herald problems, and this is a good thing. Were there no problems in the Society, it would be a sign that it was a calcified body, a dead body. Today’s problems need to be approached calmly, with a profound confidence in God who is leading the Church and the Society. The Holy Ghost is responsible for this. He inspired and directed the Second Vatican Council, and this we know ‘de fide,’ and we in our ‘minima Societas’ try to be part of the Church and work for the Church with a sense of dedication, knowing all the while that we are working with Our Lord.


Does all this smack of unwarranted optimism? Fr. General is optimistic, and there is a reason for it: we can count on the providence of Almighty God. We can be nothing else but optimistic, positive, trying to contribute to the glory of God and the betterment of the world according to our charism in the best way we can.



2. Ignatian Charism and Jesuit Identity

The question on the lips of many is “What is a Jesuit?” It is the question of the Jesuit’s identity. We shall discover the answer by understanding the charism of Saint Ignatius.


Simple and sincere, Ignatius was a man who had received from God the special grace of grasping the mystical quintessence of the Gospel. The experience that Ignatius went through in Manresa, when he saw the world in a new light, can never be aptly and exhaustively expressed in articles or books. As the Apostles continued the mission of Christ, so the Society has inherited the charism given to Ignatius.


In the Spiritual Exercises we see that the motive force of our lives is to be found in the personal love for Christ. This personal love of Christ expresses itself in a total commitment “sub vexillo crucis,” where one chooses poverty and suffering and humiliation rather than riches and glory. The evangelical attitude of the third degree of humility that is expected of every Jesuit coincides with the attitude portrayed in the third class of men. Compromise has no place here, and the Jesuit must, with a tremendous detachment, be open to the Spirit, always looking for God’s will and His greater glory. This epitomizes our spirituality, and this is what the Society has to give to the world.


Christocentricism for a Jesuit means a personal love for Christ, for of this love comes true discernment and the vision of the world through the eyes of Christ. This must be the basis for building up a ‘new world.’ In the process of development in the world, the men of today may not be conscious of the ‘inner’ progress, and it is we who can make our contribution by stressing that “charitas Christi urget nos,” by displaying an enthusiastic Ignatian ‘indifference.’


The Society has a raison d’etre in that it fosters progress of the world for the greater glory of God. And to the charge that the Jesuit has had his day, and that was in the sixteenth century, but that in today’s democratic set-up he hardly has a place, I reply that the Society today has still the living spirit to move the world to Christ. The Society as ‘defensor fidei’ has to defend the faith from all a-christian ideas that go counter to God’s plans for man and the world, and to proclaim the Word of God to a society in which the Church is losing ground.


The real identity of the Society is crystallized in the Formula of the Institute and in the Constitutions, wherein is the spirit of the Good News understood radically. Ignatius was the first founder of a religious order or congregation to identify the apostolic goal with all perfection, and he did so from the very beginning. Explicit though he is about the scope of activities which the Jesuit may undertake, he often adds the remark that the local man in charge is to judge whether circumstances dictate another course of action. This embraces the phenomenon of pluralism. Just to give a small concrete example: one month ago I was in Holland, where I didn’t see a single soutane. Here in India I see plenty of them! The external appearance may differ, but under it there is one and the same Society.


Saint Ignatius said that unity in the Society is of capital importance. We are a “corpus universal Societais;” we are not a federation of provinces, as the Benedictine Order is a federation of monasteries. The symbol and bond of this unity, as set down in the Constitutions, is the General. Further, it is this unity that enables us to plan for the whole world and renders it possible and imperative for the Jesuit to move from one place to another according to the mission he receives. Provincalism simply has no place in the Society.


Our mobility is linked to our obedience, and for our obedience to be effective there is the ‘ratio conscientiae,’ whereby each one’s capabilities are correctly fostered so that these may harmonize with one’s spiritual needs and aspirations. We are working in Congo and Alaska, in Russia and in Czechoslovakia, practically under every clime and government, and there is no condition in which the Society is a stranger. I challenge you, my dear Fathers and Brothers, to find a human structure more fundamentally suited for apostolic activity anywhere!



3. Apostles in a Secularized World

The Society can do something for the world. Starting from this conviction, we must study the concrete circumstances and discern how we may best spend ourselves for the world of today.


The world of today is secularized. And it is not only the Catholics who find it secularized, but also the Hindus and Moslems, the Buddhists and Shintoists. This secularization is a tremendous challenge to religion and we have to confront this challenge.


We Jesuits are supposed to be in the front line, we have to be in contact with the world of today; but before establishing this contact—before, at least, ‘in signo rationis’—we have to be in contact with Christ, put on Christ’s mentality in a spirit of trustful prayer. If we do not, then we shall be carried away by the current. It is for this reason that hundreds of Jesuits leave the Society every year: they are not prepared to meet the challenge, a challenge that twenty years ago was easier to meet when we had so many structures to protect us.


We had, for example, the ‘rule of the companion;’ our houses closed at 8 p.m. In South Europe we used to have a very regular life: at 8.30 p.m. all were at home. The litanies were recited. Supper and common recreation followed, then a quarter of an hour of points and examen. The next morning, the bell would ring at 5. There was a visit at 5.25; then an hour’s meditation and Mass.


Today this regularity is not observed—I don’t speak about India now, I say this from my knowledge of the Society as General. Some Fathers have now to work late at night. Students and workers can be contacted by our Fathers only after 9 p.m. The Fathers return home at 1 in the morning. In normal circumstances a Father will need 7 hours of sleep and so he will not be able to be up before 8 a.m. Only the Father who has to say Mass for the working men in the morning need get up at 4.30 or 5. Now the question arises: Who controls the Father who returns home in the small hours of the morning? Nobody, except his conscience and sense of responsibility. Who knows whether he is working with his students and clients, or is not somewhere else? He alone knows. You can see that such a man needs a tremendous fund of virtue, he must be a man of prayer, or else after a while he will say, “Why am I a Jesuit?”


What I am trying to say is that if we must apply ourselves effectively to our apostolic tasks, we must first count on a solidly built interior life.


The great problem of the Society today is lack of prayer. Are we prepared with a life of prayer to challenge the world and still keep to our Jesuit way of life, not merely maintaining the ‘status quo’ but drawing the world to Christ? This obliges us to a more intense life of prayer, a deeper love of Christ, a more profound spirituality. The Society has not to become secularized, it must apply itself apostolically to the secularized world.


You can see in the Society today three groups. One group is made up of the more traditionally thinking Fathers, Brothers and Scholastics, who say that the Society admits of no change, that changes are dangerous, that the outcome of this period of chaos will be a return to the sanity of the old times. This group forms a minority. There are the others, mostly young men, who feel that the Society itself as also the 31st General Congregation are dated, and that charismatic processes point to a faster pace within the Society. Rules and regulations do not matter; the real experience of Ignatius is what matters. Finally, there is the silent majority who persevere in their vocation and work amid the tensions felt throughout the Society.



4. Do we need a Congregation?

The Congregation of Procurators met and the question of “cogenda aut non cogenda” was placed before them: Should there be a General Congregation or not? Is today’s Society in such a state that we need a Congregation in order to restore order and put things straight? The Procurators were not only to vote on the “cogenda aut non cogenda” issue, but also to discuss other questions of our life and apostolate. Some measure of the Society’s thinking could be got from the fact that 65 provinces voted “non cogenda” and 15 “cogenda.”


There were also the issues contained in the Holy See’s Instruction ‘Renovationis causa,’ which includes formation and touches on matters which only a Congregation may deal with. The experiment with the new Assistants-General, with the periti, the new set-up in the Curia, are yet to be evaluated, which only the Congregation can do and then effect the necessary changes.


The 31st General Congregation had dealt with the question of Grades, but concluded that the question of the Brothers needed to be studied first. Would the question of the Brothers necessitate a General Congregation? Then, too, many are leaving the Society. Is this an indication of deteriorating standards in the Society, to remedy which a General Congregation would have to be called?


The issues raised by the ‘Renovationis causa’ did not require a Congregation. The document insists on our going back to the Constitutions and applies to all religious institutes a number of points which were proper of the Society.


The question of the Grades has been studied for the past 5 years by a commission of five experts. And even though there are about 50 Fathers collaborating with them, the issue is far from dear since the historical significance of the Grades even in the time of Saint Ignatius is not fully known.


In the international Congress of Brothers we touched on a crucial point: Is the Society an ‘ordo sacerdotalis’ or not? Is this an essential feature of the Society? Can Brothers be Superiors? What is the precise significance of Temporal Coadjutor, Spiritual Coadjutor, Professed, and so forth?


To study the question of the Society being essentially a ‘clerical order,’ I called ten renowned Jesuit theologians. They had their answer ready in just 10 minutes: “Father this is not a question of theology, it is a question of history; and history is clear on this point: the Society is a clerical order.” From this it follows that we have to find out what exactly is the place of the Brother in this clerical order. A change in this regard must be considered as fundamental and can be effected only within a General Congregation and with recourse to the Holy Father.


After all these considerations, the Congregation of Procurators, with just 100 votes, voted thus: 91 for ‘non cogenda;’ 9 for ‘cogenda.’



5. The Apostolate of the Society Today

The apostolate of the Society was to be discussed at the Procurators’ Congregation, but it seemed evident that without a fair preparation the matter would take up several weeks. I therefore presented a little paper that was the result of prayer and reflection, the result of the general Survey and other documents concerning our ministries.


It seemed to me that there were four points to which the Society would have to pay special attention. The first was theological reflection on the human problems of today; the second was social action; the third was education; and the fourth was mass communications.


1. Theological Reflection. Consequent on the cultural changes and the technological progress taking place in the world, new problems have arisen to which few answers have been given. These answers have to be formulated in the light of a God-given faith. Knowing the divine response to these human problems will show us the right way to find solutions. But today we do not know this divine response. No single individual can discover the solution; team-work is needed. We need a combination of forces, we need the findings of anthropology, sociology, psycho-analysis, international law. The Society is particularly well equipped to help in working out such a solution. We are established in 80 countries; we have so many faculties of theology, philosophy, sociology etc., that on us hangs the responsibility of finding the Christian solution to world problems.


I was recently addressing a German assembly at the Katholikentag and I asked them the following questions: Who knows where the world is heading today? Who can discern humanism in our technocratic society? Who from among our leaders knows what is in store for mankind?


We have schools, colleges and universities in many countries. During the 10 or 15 most impressionable years or a boy or young man’s life, we have the opportunity of forming the leaders of tomorrow, as we have done for the past 400 years.


That is a heavy responsibility and a most precious opportunity. Therefore, theological reflection is of primary importance; and at this point I address myself to the young Jesuits of India: please apply yourselves seriously to the study of theology and to the sciences of man and human environment which will open the way to theology. Today immediate results are looked for. But to grasp and solve a problem in all its varied aspects long hours of deep study are required, much effort and profound reflection. And so the Reader’s Digest kind of theology or the demagogic articles on the theology of revolution will not do today. We have to sit down and study and proceed scientifically in our theological reflection.


2. And now to the Social Apostolate. Justice and mutual collaboration are at a discount in this world. I don’t know how far you will agree with me when I say that this ‘third world’ is the incarnation of original sin. It is egoism that has brought about the appalling differences in the world. In spite of international meetings and conferences, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.


Is this not why young men speak about revolution, contestation, the unidimensional man? The young man wishes the present order to pass away and in his short-sightedness requires that all existing structures be discarded. He may be wrong, but he has a point. It is not enough to identify oneself with the poor man. It is not enough to change the role; we have to change or adapt the structures and for this study and reflection are necessary. Applying ‘Populorum Progressio’ with a view to developing ‘totus homo et omnes homines’ demands a change in the structures that obtain now in the world. It may also mean that we shall be considered Marxists or communists, whereas we are only putting into practice the teachings of ‘Populorum Progressio,’ ‘Mater et Magistra’ and ‘Gaudium et Spes.’


3. And then there is Education. If you can change Man, you can change the World. Our schools are very important. It is at times distressing to hear that the Society is no longer interested in Education but rather in the direct apostolate. The Society is interested in Education now more than ever, but in schools that are performing a real function within the context, not in museum pieces that are quite abstracted from the conditions and circumstances of today. And the same goes for education in general. Besides, there is the education of the masses to be attended to.


Taking the case of Latin America, who educates the millions upon millions in a population, 52% of whom are under 20 years of age? In India you have the same proportion; you will therefore be having more than 300 million people who are less than 20 years old. In Brazil alone there are at least 50 million under 20. Who educates them? The Governor of Sao Paolo told me that in that city the majority of school teachers were young girls with only 2 years of primary education behind them. And then there are the adults to be cared for!


4. And last but not least, Mass Communications. I am no prophet, but I can tell you that in another 10 years India’s teeming millions will be reached only by TV. Today Delhi alone has television; here in Bombay you will have it soon. TV will be possible on a grand scale in about 2 or 3 years when you have your satellites as they do in Latin America.


You must prepare yourselves to turn this avalanche into a blessing. We know the awful waste of time that results from TV advertisements and cheap films in Europe and many other countries. The Indian Government will be ready to accept good programs. The time to prepare for it is now. After ten or even five years it will be too late. We will have missed the boat! In a church you may have 2,000 or 5,000 people listening to you. On television you will be able to contact directly 4 or 5 million listeners and viewers whom you would never have been able to approach in any other way. And this is not wishful thinking but a fact of the very near future.




In conclusion, my dear Fathers and Brothers, let me once more express my intimate conviction that a Society faithful to the Ignatian charism, made up of men thoroughly dedicated to Christ, is highly relevant in our days and can do much for the Church and for the World.—Thank You.




Original Source:

Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “Relevance of the Society and its Apostolate in the World Today,” pg. 15–24.

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