“Exchange with the United Nations Secretary-General,” Pedro Arrupe (1971)

United Nations Secretary-General U Thant welcomed Pedro Arrupe to his New York City office on May 4, 1971. Arrupe’s visit to the United Nations was the first made by the Jesuits’ superior general. The text of the men’s public exchange appears below. Arrupe speaks on behalf of his fellow Jesuits (“relatively few but active in five continents”) and observes that they are all “pledged to work with right-minded men of all creeds and none, for a more truly human society.” Thant replies to Arrupe: “Be assured that the Jesuit contribution to the work of the United Nations is both needed and appreciated.” He notes how Jesuits “are particularly well endowed to help meet the spiritual and intellectual needs of our times,” pointing specifically to the “spirit of internationalism [that] has characterized the Society of Jesus for four centuries” and how Jesuit “teachers, scholars and scientists” have supported “the profound belief that training, discipline, and education are a prerequisite to high human accomplishment.”

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




Remarks of the Superior General of the Society of Jesus to U Thant


Your Excellency,


In the work of three successive Popes and the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has actively supported the United Nations Organization, which you have served with such dedication for so long. The Vatican Council, in an act of faith and hope, saw in the United Nations “the first attempts to lay international foundations under the whole human community for solving the critical problems of our age, the promotion of global progress and the prevention of war in all its forms.”


May I, as head of the Society of Jesus, identify myself with that same faith and hope in you and in what your organization is doing. For we Jesuits, relatively few but active in five continents, are pledged to work with right-minded men of all creeds and none, for a more truly human society. World justice and peace, a sense of family and of joint effort among the nations: these are United Nations ideals to which many good men today devote the best of their lives. And these ideals take top priority among Jesuit aims and objectives.


But human solidarity and fraternal love are meaningless today unless, at national and international levels, they come to life in the right kind of structures—economic, social and political. I mean structures which recognize the basic human right to equality, dignity and freedom. Structures ensuring for all, not only fair shares of the world’s wealth, but also and more importantly, a share in decisions affecting and shaping their lives.


The fear of widespread hunger was the dominant note of the past decade. Together with many others, the United Nations and its agencies have fought to defeat it. Thanks to these efforts, new techniques of food production have developed, with improved seed cultivation and chemical fertilizers. Some developing countries have achieved higher rates of agricultural growth than could have been expected.


The fear of hunger recedes, but there are other blocks to human development. Deep and widespread injustice and inequity persist, calling for far-reaching reform of political, social and economic systems. Economic and political power are still heavily concentrated in the hands of the few. This is true of the individual nation, and of the world community as a whole. Millions are still poor and insecure. Aid from richer countries falls short of acceptable minima. Yet colossal sums of money are still spent on the arms race.


For the Catholic Church these wrongs are a matter of prime concern, overriding its domestic problems, complex though they be. For this reason, Pope Paul, as you know, has chosen world justice as one of the leading topics for the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome in September.


Stable employment, housing, education and health services must be found for a growing world population. There are all the risks of uncontrolled urban growth, of social disorientation and of violence. The United Nations is gravely concerned over current misuse and mismanagement of world resources through extravagance, waste and pollution: all of them threats to development in rich and poor countries alike. The strategy planned for the Second United Nations Development Decade has taken these problems into account.


This is a hopeful sign that the nations are becoming aware that development means more than economic growth. The tendency to see material growth as at least the main condition for justice and peace is yielding to a wider, integral concept of human development, in which social, cultural and political factors play a leading role.


I am well aware, Sir, of your personal concern for forms of development that will integrate social and economic principles; and it is heartening to learn that this fundamental need has recently been the object of special study by United Nations committees.


People in developing countries are asking questions about the type of person they want to be, the type of society they are trying to create. What does a “better life” mean for them? Are they simply going to reproduce a social order which, though highly developed in terms of wealth and technology, is failing to meet man’s inner longings and aspirations?


These are fundamental questions, radical questions. They touch man at the decisive point of self-determination; they challenge the very meaning of development. Since today’s problems are global by nature, they can be solved only within a common concern for the human family. Where this moral dimension is missing, the attack on man’s problem becomes unrealistic, inadequate, contradictory. Where it is present, answers can be found which are grounded on the reality of common human values and common human interests. For at the heart of global problems is the human person.


It is precisely here—in the area of fundamental questions—that we Jesuits would like to join with men seeking answers; to make our modest contribution; to deploy our best resources. We are not alone in this. We know our concern for man’s dignity and freedom is shared by all the Christian Churches, by the great non-Christian religions of the world, and by men of goodwill who do not subscribe to religious faith. We pledge ourselves to work in close collaboration with them all.


To this end the Society of Jesus accepted the invitation of the U.S. Catholic Conference to carry out a feasibility study over the past several months concerning the usefulness of launching in North America a center concerned with the issues of peace, justice and development.


In the coming weeks such a center will be launched. We think of it as a process rather than an institution, a process, autonomous in nature, of working with other groups concerned to build a world that is more human.


Centers with similar aims have already been established in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The intention is to develop fresh ideas which may act as catalyst for the thinking of men empowered to make things happen; to offer a forum where the search for justice and authentic human development can be worked out; to help to give meaning and direction to man’s efforts to build a better world.


This, we feel, is the best contribution we can make to the United Nations’ efforts to bring about, through social and economic progress, stable conditions and living standards consistent with human dignity.


The reason for the United Nations’ existence is that it aims at world solidarity and cooperation. No one can escape the duty of providing it, directly or indirectly, within the limits of his capacity, with the structures and resources it requires to achieve its purposes, and to achieve them effectively in the here and now.


Let me assure you once more of our renewed support for the United Nations Organization and what it represents. I am happy that some of my fellow Jesuits have given their years to the service of the United Nations as members of its Secretariat here in New York or in Geneva at the International Labor Office. Others have served in their countries’ delegations to the General Assembly or the meetings of its specialized agencies. I offer you personally, Mr. Secretary-General, our deep respect and admiration, and the assurance of our prayers for your further success in the difficult task entrusted to you.



Reply of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Organization to Pedro Arrupe, S.J.


Reverend Father,


I am both honored and delighted to welcome you most cordially to the Headquarters of the United Nations. This first visit from the Superior General of the Society of Jesus is a very significant event in the complementary efforts of the Catholic Church and the United Nations to bring peace and harmony to the world.


The highly perceptive and cogent words which you have spoken today greatly reinforce my own faith and hope that this world institution will realize the civilizing goals for which it was created: peace, justice, freedom, dignity, and well-being for all peoples on earth.


As you have pointed out, we are at last on the road towards overcoming the many material obstacles to human well-being. The principle of solidarity between rich and poor countries has been accepted. Our directions are clear and our plans have been laid out in a global strategy and programs for integrated development.


Unfortunately, progress towards peace, justice, freedom and dignity—so vital for the attainment of that “better life” increasingly invoked by all peoples—has fared less well. For inspiration, guidance and perseverance in our slow journey towards these goals, we can draw upon the moral strength and spiritual values which are the foundations of all human cultures and of all the great religions which now co-exist on this planet.


The members of your Society are particularly well endowed to help meet the spiritual and intellectual needs of our times. The spirit of internationalism has characterized the Society of Jesus for four centuries. From the very beginning, you have been an Order of teachers, scholars and scientists who have acted on the profound belief that training, discipline, and education are a prerequisite to high human accomplishment.


We warmly welcome your active support and your identification with United Nations goals. It is a source of great satisfaction to me, as Secretary-General, to have observed during these past years how the churches and religious organizations have led in adopting new—I might even say avant-garde—approaches to the questions of development. Be assured that the Jesuit contribution to the work of the United Nations is both needed and appreciated.


The important role of the United Nations in the creation of a truly universal human society has been recognized by two successive Pontiffs. Two great encyclical letters, that of His Holiness Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, and the earlier Pacem in Terris of His Holiness Pope John XXIII, eloquently express principles which are in complete harmony with the spirit and goals of the United Nations Charter. The building of a more just, a more united and a more humane world must count on many artisans: the family of governments, the family of religions, the family of international institutions and above all, the large family of men, women and children who labor and learn throughout the world in order to fulfill their human destiny. Man’s aspirations and needs for peace transcend national borders. At long last the world has become the concern of all. The time may have come when the unity of our globe, of our atmosphere, of our oceans and of our resources will bring about the unity of men.


I do not wish, Reverend Father, to let pass this occasion without thanking you for the contribution made by some members of your Order in their service in international organizations. We have had the privilege of counting in our ranks a great Jesuit and international civil servant: Father Emmanuel de Breuvery. He was a scholar, a believer and an internationalist who gave proof that man can have several rich allegiances in his life: an allegiance to the dignity of the human person, an allegiance to his faith, an allegiance to his country and an allegiance to the international community.


I thank you, Reverend Father, for the understanding, goodwill and support which you have brought to us today, and for your very wise and inspiring message for the peoples of the United Nations.




Original Source:

Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “The Society of Jesus Sharing in the Church’s Concern for Justice and Peace in the World,” pg. 61–67.

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