“Missionary Vocation,” Pedro Arrupe (1972)

At a meeting of the major superiors in the Jesuits’ African Assistancy in March 1972, Pedro Arrupe delivered the following remarks on the missionary vocation within the Society of Jesus. The group had gathered in Cameroon, just a year after the establishment of the African Assistancy. A Jesuit missionary, Arrupe argues, had a two-fold purpose: both to bring Christ in the world and to meet Christ in the world. He also faced many obstacles. Arrupe knew of what he spoke, having served as a missionary in Japan for many years.

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



I. Our Missionary Vocation

Our time is a time of great importance—of decisive importance, in fact—to the Church, to the Society of Jesus, to the missions in general, and, in particular, to those of Africa and Madagascar. It is a moment of history that calls for serious reflection on our part. We must get our bearings and find out exactly where we are, so as to be ready to render as best we can whatever service may be required of us.


Ours is a period of transition; some would even say, a period of crisis. What should be our response to it? Let me suggest that our response to it should be a return to the original spirit of our Society, an ever deeper realization of what is truly essential to our vocation, and, as a consequence, a stripping away of whatever obscures or deflects this basic orientation. The amazing changes in the world brought about by technological progress should be for us so many providential aids to live more fully what the masterly intuition of Saint Ignatius perceived to be the specifically Jesuit contribution to the Christian apostolate and to the service of the Church. Even “future shock” should serve to jar us into a new realization of a timeless ideal.


1. Mission

Today, as much as ever before, mission work—the “spreading of the faith,” as it used to be called—is a work of immediate urgency, since it enters into the very definition of the Church. Let me approach this subject by an apparent digression. Something I said recently, or rather, something I failed to say, may have caused surprise among those of us engaged in mission work. In the list of apostolic priorities which I presented to the Society during the Congregation of Procurators of 1970, I made no mention of the “missions.” The reason is simple. If we take “mission” to mean “spreading the faith,” then it is obviously not a “priority” at all. It is not one of several means that can be ranked in the order of importance. It is an end, not a means: an integral part of the end pursued by the Society in its service of the Church, as is clear from the Formula of our Institute. On the other hand, if we take “mission” to mean our apostolate among “non-Christians,” it seems to me that today we cannot consider it something essentially different from our apostolate in the rest of the world. I prescind from the pejorative meaning, the somewhat belittling connotation, that the term “mission country” seems to have acquired today.


The fact is that the complex of activities we undertake in such countries is not something separate from our world apostolate, but an integral part of it. Thus, when I spoke of theological reflection, education, social action, and the media of social communication as apostolic priorities, I was giving them the widest possible application, as priorities in all the countries where we work. For I am convinced that they are of the highest importance everywhere, although, of course, there will be different ways of combining them and carrying them out, according to different circumstances of time and place.


Today we can no longer look upon the “mission countries” as a class apart. Their problems demand to be studied and resolved with the same attention, depth of insight, and coordination of effort as problems elsewhere in the world. We have reached a moment of history when physical mobility, rapid communications, and the variety of forms of collaboration are such that we must view the world as a totality. Let us not create barriers where they do not exist. Acceptance of the concept of world unity should foster a more effective distribution of personnel and resources, and a more fruitful exchange of experiences.


2. The Missionary Image

The world is so different today from what it used to be that it is sometimes said that what we need is a new image or concept of the “missionary.” Perhaps. But for us, this should mean a new actualization of the Jesuit apostle as a man who incarnates with new vigor the vision vouchsafed to Ignatius beside the Cardoner and at Manresa, and which he later wrote into the Constitutions.


The present situation in the world, in the Church and in the Society is most complex; no doubt about it. It abounds in new problems which affect key aspects of our faith and the very nature of our vocation. Moreover, today’s questioning is not something merely intellectual or theoretical, born of the desire of modern man to know the why of everything, and to apply to faith the norms of metaphysics and purely rational methods of investigation. It is a questioning that penetrates to the very depth of our personal vocation, to the very meaning of life, and hence to the core of the faith itself.


How should we define missions today? How necessary is it to convert non-Christians to Christianity? What is the relationship between the local Church and the universal Church? What does the religious life really mean? How combine evangelization with development and cultural and human progress? What is the proper role of foreigners in the life and work of the local Church? How far should we be open to collaboration with other Christian churches? With other religious groups? With unbelievers? Here is a whole set of problems the very formulation of which is enough to induce in many people feelings of insecurity, discouragement and frustration.


Confronted by this problematic, different groups react differently. There are those who feel that their lives have been largely wasted, since they have been guided by opinions and beliefs which are being looked upon as of doubtful validity today. Others, younger men, are able to regard these questions with more detachment; but in the climate of doubt that is produced, they tend to lose their sense of direction, and their apostolic zeal is, if not weakened, at least diluted by a merely naturalistic and humanitarian view of evangelization. And then there are the veteran missionaries who, hearing that these questions are being raised and debated, find it all very interesting but a trifle academic; for they know from personal experience (even though they may not be able to demonstrate it in scholastic form) that their lives have a meaning and that what they are doing makes a great deal of sense. Yes, certainly, they, too, have had their doubts and questionings, deeply disturbing at times; but these doubts and questionings have in no way shaken their belief in the enduring value and efficacy of a life totally committed to the service of the Church and mankind.


At the end of a rather involved discussion, in which some very distinguished theologians took part, on how to define the purpose of missionary activity, a veteran missionary said to me: “This is great! I work in the missions for forty years, and now they tell me the theologians do not know what we have been working for practically all our lives! Well, they may not know, but I know; so that’s O.K. How these experts manage to complicate our lives!”


The fact is, however, that amid all this ferment of “demythologization,” new hermeneutics, new ecclesiology, new exegesis, the identity of the Society and the missionary dimension of its apostolate is often called into question.


Now, this is hardly the occasion for a theological or historical exposition of the nature· of the missionary vocation or the identity of the Society. But we can certainly say this, that, according to Saint Ignatius, the “principle and foundation” of our life as Jesuits is the fourth vow, the vow of obedience to the Roman Pontiff with respect to missions. In other words, our life is based on mission, on being sent: the mission we receive from Christ, namely, of working in the service of the Church through the mediation of the Roman Pontiff and the Society. Christ’s command, “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation?” we consider to be our mission from Him, and rightly so.


3. Prolongation of the Trinitarian Dialogue

Each one of us, at one time or another, has heard that call. Each has come to realize that, in responding to it, he is fulfilling a mission and thus giving to his life a depth of meaning which is both human and divine. For by so doing our life becomes, as it were, a prolongation of the intimate dialogue that begins within the Trinity, between the Father and the Word: “Here I am! I am coming to obey your will;” the dialogue which expressed the love of the Father for fallen humanity, a love which the Son made known to us when He offered Himself as Victim on the Cross: “What proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.”


It is this same dialogue that is continued in the depths of our being when we hear the voice of the Word Incarnate inviting us to follow Him: “You did not choose Me; no, I chose you;” and we responded with generosity: “I offer my whole self to the task” and “Lord, take and receive all my liberty.”


The dialogue does not end there. It continues, this time between ourselves and the world that is not yet Christian. That world did not seek us; we sought it, on our own initiative. We showed it Christ, and we tried, we are trying, to convince it that in Christ there is no distinction between man and man, “no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, between the circumcised or the uncircumcised, between barbarian and Scythian, slave and free man.” A dialogue which is not only open to all, but also has nothing about it of compulsion: “Our mission is to proclaim what is unquestionably true and necessary for salvation; but we do not impose it by force…. We offer it as a saving gift, without infringement of either personal or civil liberty.”


We need patience to carry on this dialogue, for the dialogue of salvation was, on the whole, a gradual growth, starting from quite small beginnings and passing through successive stages of development before reaching complete success. So, too, our dialogue must take into account the slowness of the process by which man reaches psychological and historical maturity, and await the hour when God will make it effective.


The dialogue then continues between the soul which does not yet believe and Christ himself. This is the final stage. The soul must now choose whether to accept or not, without reserve, Christ as God-made-Man. The mystery of conversion: Christ’s inward action on the soul, the soul’s response.


First, then, the Trinitarian dialogue; then Christ’s dialogue with me, inviting me to give myself to Him; my dialogue with the world, with souls, with unbelievers; and finally, the dialogue of the converted soul with Christ. This is the splendid sum and substance of our missionary activity.


If we thus reflect on our life in depth, we cannot but be consoled and strengthened by the realization that “the Church is as much alive today as she ever was,” and even though “all things considered, it seems that everything is still to do, and there is no end in sight to the work we begin, today,” we nevertheless perceive that “this is precisely the kind of ministry to which we are committed, and everything today urges us to carry it on with renewed vigor, vigilance, and intensity.”


Let us, then, look upon ourselves as sent by Christ “to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church,” as really and truly His helpers and fellow workers. The missionary is the bearer of hope to the world. Precisely at a time when the developed nations are caught up in the most serious ideological and social problems, and when the Church herself seems to be passing through a period of trial and desolation, the ongoing work of the apostolate, with all it exemplifies of lively faith, supernatural outlook, persevering effort and steady growth, is a ray of hope that gives new life and vigor to the true image of the Church.


There is no doubt at all that the apostolic works being carried on in the nations or missions of the Third World are an inspiration to the rest of the world. The difficulties encountered, and the spirit in which they are encountered, are like a silent preaching of the Word within the Church herself. Thus, those who render service to the new Churches render at the same time a witness that is both stimulus and encouragement to the whole Church. It is not only the successes registered in the rising number of conversions, it is also the unremitting effort, amid hardships of every kind, of those who labor year after year without any tangible success, that compellingly testifies to the efficacious presence of the Spirit, and to the fact that God, who has been pronounced “dead” in societies reputed to be Christian, is very much alive.



II. Double Aspect of the Missionary Vocation

1. Bringing Christ to the World

It may be helpful to consider the missionary vocation as having this twofold aspect: it is a bringing of Christ to the world, and it is also an encountering of Christ in the world.


It is clear that our missionary vocation has for its purpose to bring Christ to men and men to Christ. This requires of us a total acceptance of the totality of revelation, the depositum fidei in its entirety, so that we can proclaim to the world not yet Christian the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We achieve this total acceptance best of all by a process of “interiorization,” so to speak; that is to say, by a vital contact with Christ at the deepest level of our being, the level at which He gives us to “really know God’s secret, in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.” This inward communication transforms us in a very real sense; it gives us a new form; it “Christifies” us—makes us other Christs; and that not only in our words, which, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, will be received as the words of Christ Himself, but in our very lives, which, having taken on the form of Christ, will make us “Christ’s incense to God for those who are being saved.” This is the kind of tangible and trust-inspiring testimony that carries with it, in its turn, a transforming power. For when all is said and done, what transforms a man is not an ideology, not a theory, but life—something lived. A consecrated life, a life that continues in time the holocaust Christ offered once, will always be the definitive proof that what we teach is true.


2. Meeting Christ in the World

But the work of evangelization has another aspect which is often forgotten: that of discovering Christ and His Spirit in non-Christian societies and cultures.

Other religions to be found everywhere strive variously to answer the restless searchings of the human heart … [and] often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men…. The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religious, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture.


One of our principal tasks today is to discover in other religions and in the traditions and ways of life of the peoples who do not know Christ, the signs that point to Christ. To do this we must have a great love for those who “do not have the faith;” we must regard them with understanding and sympathy, and treat them as equals always.


A lively personal interest will enable us to enter fully into the spirit of these cultures. By doing this, we will make our approach to them a highly constructive one, for we shall be enriching them with the fullness of Christ’s message without antecedently destroying the values they already possess. Consider what a world of difference there is between these two attitudes: the attitude of one who enters the apostolate with utter self-assurance, as though he possessed all the truth that can possibly be known, failing to recognize or refusing to admit that he can learn a great deal from other nations and other cultures, that they can give him insights into our common humanity of which he is ignorant; and the attitude of one who approaches these nations and cultures with sensitivity and respect, seeking to discern the work of the Spirit in cultural forms which may seem at first sight to be not only unfamiliar but unacceptable.


In this whole matter of the approach to cultures other than our own, what a change has taken place in recent times! There was a time when “apostolic zeal” demanded the destruction of the Buddhist family altar; today, our effort is rather to transform it into a Christian family altar. The ancestral altar, remembrance of a family tradition dear to all its members, can surely be converted for the same family into the center and symbol of its transformation, of the decisive step it has taken towards truth. Why inflict an unnecessary psychological trauma, when a constructive substitution and a catechesis of consolation is possible?



III. Ignatian Traits of the Missionary Image

An effort to bring out the Ignatian characteristics of the missionary image can be made, I believe, along these lines:


1. It is an absolute surrender, an assent to the radical demands of the gospel, even to the sacrifice of all we have and are, in the third degree of humility. This spirit is expressed in the motto “sub crucis vexillo” of the Formula of Our Institute. It urges us “to accept and desire with all possible energy whatever Christ our Lord has loved and embraced…. The sons of the Society, firmly grounded in faith, in company with all other Christians, lift their eyes to Christ, in whom they find that absolute perfection of self-giving and undivided love….”


A hard life, a life of hardship: “Therefore, before those who will come to us take this burden upon their shoulders, they should ponder long and seriously, as the Lord has counseled, whether they possess among their resources enough spiritual capital to complete this tower.”


2. The vocation to the Society is not an individual concern, but a vocation to the body of the same Society.

We finally decided for the affirmative … that we should not disrupt our union and brotherhood in God, but that we should continue to confirm and strengthen it, becoming as one body, and sharing our concern for one another and our understanding for the greater good of souls.


Thus our missionary vocation fits within the plan of the Society. Personal charism and its work should always be judged in this light. The Society as a body has an apostolic purpose to achieve through its members. How foreign to all this are those who are “self-directed,” or those who seek to carve out some activity or sphere for themselves alone! Our life has meaning and comes into the movement of salvation history only insofar as our mission is received from God through the Society.


The true community of which St. Ignatius speaks is the whole body of the Society. Even though in the actual circumstances of the apostolate there have to be local communities, each one incorporates itself into the Society “as members of one and the same body of the Society.”


3. Another mark of our apostolate is universality. Our service to the Church and the Supreme Pontiff demands universality. We must be ready to go to any part of the world. This universality gives true meaning to our local apostolic works. All regionalism or nationalism which can hinder this universal ideal must be excluded. We are “citizens of the world and of the Church.” Thus we must be interested in world problems as well as those of different areas of the world. In this manner we see the salvation of the world through the eyes of Christ on the Cross.


4. This universality demands great availability and mobility. We must strive to maintain in ourselves, always, an Ignatian Indifference as regards our work. In this manner we can serve wherever obedience calls us. This availability and mobility may appear as a hindrance to dedicating oneself to a sustained effort, but it should not be so. For we must foster a zeal and love for our present task as though it were to be our permanent and final effort, while keeping alive that inner indifference which will enable us to relinquish our work at any time. This attitude is achieved only with a supernatural spirit of apostolic charity, which gives inner freedom, the fruit of true indifference.


5. This universality demands adaptability, by which we adapt and incarnate ourselves in the setting in which we labor. This is applicable not only to foreign missionaries who must adopt new ways for the apostolate, but also to nationals who must make themselves truly all things to all men. This will demand of all a certain spiritual flexibility, enabling us to achieve that degree of liberty which recognizes and accepts the human values of the cultural context in which we live.


6. We should work according to a supernatural strategy, founded on the magis, which continually seeks a more effective manner of service. This strategy presumes a supernatural understanding of the present circumstances of our work. It also rests on the application of the principle of discernment to the “choice of ministries:” Ignatius’s masterly formulation of principles and methods that coincide with those used today by international enterprises.


7. One last Ignatian characteristic of the Jesuit missioner is his ecclesial outlook. He is a servant of the hierarchical Church: “to serve the Lord alone and the Church, His spouse, under the Roman Pontiff.” “We serve Christ, who lives and works in the Church, and our Society would not have a right to the name of Jesus, if it were not totally dedicated to the service of His Church.” This ecclesial sense should be understood in the spirit which St. Ignatius has embodied in his “Rules for thinking with the Church.” Our acceptance of the hierarchical Church should be a sign that the Society continues to be faithful to her tradition of being guided by the ecclesial spirit which is so characteristic of our history.



IV. Antitheses in the Missionary Activity

Every Jesuit engaged in the missionary apostolate should expect to encounter certain antitheses in the course of his labor, and should be able to resolve them. This resolution should always be sought on a supernatural plane, and on the basis of religious experience. Here are some of these antitheses:


1. Mobility or local commitment? We suggested the possibility of this kind of tension earlier, when speaking of flexibility. We must have an all-embracing vision of the universal Church, of her needs, of her opportunities, and we must never lose the spirit of true obedience, which demands complete detachment and availability. But far from weakening our effective commitment to our present task, this vision and this spirit should strengthen it, for we will look on that task as an integral part of the Church’s universal mission, in which works which appear to be of little importance or urgency are seen as a preparation for the Gospel.


2. Rational planning or charismatic inspiration? We should always give the primacy to the Spirit and to supernatural means, in accordance with the principle that “those means which join the instrument to God, and dispose it to be rightly guided by His hand, are of greater efficacy than those which merely dispose it towards men.” But we should not forget either that once we have “laid this foundation,” human means, as such, are capable of leading to the same end if they are used as Saint Ignatius directs, that is, not relying on them exclusively, but rather bringing them to co-operate with the action of divine grace. It is from these premises that Saint Ignatius draws the following conclusion: “Hence let human means, whether natural or acquired, be diligently employed.”


3. Indigenous culture or Western culture? We must recognize indigenous cultural values, but without exclusivism. Whatever is human is imperfect, and cultural interchange often brings enrichment to the cultures thus brought into contact. This seems to be the more realistic view. Hence, it should be part of our task to encourage such contacts, always without injury to legitimate national values and aspirations. The solution to this antithesis surely does not lie in a retreat to tradition, as though it is only the historic past that gives to a people its identity. This is to forget or ignore the capacity of a culture to assimilate and transform into itself what is of foreign origin, and the necessary interdependence of peoples and cultures today. Let us then give our support to a process of evolution which will be truly progressive: neither a destruction of authentic national values, nor a backward step to the importation of harmful foreign elements.


4. Local Church or universal Church? A sound theology of the local Church emphasizes the need for developing particular Churches so that the universal Church can embrace in all their variety of tongues, customs, and cultures all persons, peoples, and human groupings in the world. But let us also take note of the fact that the particular Church, as such, is always universalist. By its very nature it is ordained to unity. Thus it is hardly necessary, it is even contradictory to say of groupings such as those called local Churches that they exist “without prejudice to unity, etc.” At the very heart of each (particular) Church the whole Church, the universal Church, is present in principle. In each of them the bishop has, as his essential function, to see to it that the faith which that Church professes is the faith of the Church universal, and to celebrate the Eucharist as the bond, at once mystical and visible, of Catholic unity.


The Church Universal lives in each particular Church. Every particular Church, conscious of this “co-responsibility,” must accept and carry it in such a way as to live in true communion and cooperation with the other particular Churches under the authority of the successor of Peter.


Here is a great contribution that the Society of Jesus, as a universal and international body, can make. The presence of international religious institutes in a particular Church, especially those which have been enriched by local vocations, helps that Church to be much more open to the universal


Church precisely in its universality, and much more aware of its co-responsibility within that Church.


5. Contemplation or action? Here is a basic tension of the ascetic-apostolic life, which is that of the Society. Our spirituality is built around this tension, and takes its origin from the “Contemplation for Obtaining Love.”


6. Theological reflection or practical realism? We should bear in mind that the substantive problems of the apostolate cannot be resolved without recourse to theological reflection. For either they are theological problems properly so-called, or they are human problems which must be considered in the light of faith, because the adequate answer to them can only be found in the supernatural order. Thus, on the one hand, we are called upon to be very practical, very realistic, because these problems are real problems; but on the other hand, we must have a capacity for abstracting the essential from the contingent. By thus detaching ourselves from the casuistry of the particular, we shall be better able to seek and find solutions of a more profound and permanent kind, since it is only through such a process of reflection that these problems can be seen extensively and in depth. In short, the resolution of human problems demands both realism and reflection.


7. Methodology: specifically Jesuit or open-ended? We should of course carry on our apostolate in accordance with our specifically Jesuit charism, for the effectiveness of that apostolate depends on our fidelity to that charism. But it is equally certain that this fidelity to our charism does not mean a closed or ‘ghetto’ mentality. On the contrary, it means openness and collaboration.


This openness and collaboration should be extended not only “to other groups in the Church-diocesan clergy, other religious groups, lay people-but also to other Christian denominations, other religions, and even, under certain favorable circumstances, unbelievers.


The ecumenical spirit will open up for us wide fields of apostolic action. It will also help rid us of prejudices that stand in the way of all who have faith in Christ coming closer together in mutual charity.


8. Evangelization or development? Here again, there is no “either-or.” The integral development of man includes the supernatural, and man’s relationship to Christ gives a new dimension to human progress. We must therefore be committed to both evangelization and development.


Man has been Christ-formed. Hence, all action in favor of human development is in reality directed to, and an expression of, the glory of Christ that shall be revealed at the end of time. More than that, it is even now a preparation for, and an anticipation of that glory. The self-development of man, his transforming action on his environment and his history has received a new and definitive dimension, the Christ-dimension. It has been taken up through Christ into the fullness of the very life of God.


Viewed from this perspective, human relations are seen to be a great deal more profound than they appear to be, and all unselfish love and service of fellow-man becomes love and service of Christ. In the light of the grace and mystery of Christ, the real meaning of the transformation of the world by man opens out into new and undreamt-of perspectives: it becomes the mustering and assembly, the ekklesia, of humanity around the standard of Christ.


Let us develop our missionary and priestly work within this framework. Let us do it by determining, in each concrete situation, what is the most efficacious way of bringing men to Christ. There are two extremes we must avoid: that of stressing socio-economic and cultural development to such an extent that we become mere activists or promoters of a purely secular movement; and that of rejecting a priori every kind of work for people that is not directly connected with the administration of the sacraments or the preaching of the word of God.


Right now, the first of these extremes may be more speciously attractive, as a kind of reaction to somewhat narrow attitudes of the past) or as an avenue of escape from difficulties encountered in the work of evangelization. We should by all means be on guard against this temptation.


We should also do all we can to counteract the erroneous opinion that conceives progress in an almost exclusively technological and material sense, setting aside, or at least prescinding from, moral and spiritual values. How sad it is to see so many countries today sacrificing their spiritual identity and their ancestral values on the altar of the machine, the hectic pursuit of pleasure, and an imported pseudo-culture! Here is a field in which the missionary Church, [he Church fulfilling her mission, has both a great responsibility and a great opportunity.



V. Apostolate in Africa

Now that I have the pleasure of meeting here with you, the representatives of all the Jesuits of the African Assistancy, I would like to examine with you some· of the more concrete points which I hope will be useful for all of you, even though you live and work in such different situations.


Actually, in spite of the existing diversity of circumstances some important trends and certain problems are common to all. What I have in mind is the trend towards independence in every sphere, the trend towards development. I am also thinking of the problems created by acculturization, by urbanization, by lack of contact with the leaders in charge, by the decrease of personnel at the same time as there is a constant increase in the number of baptized, by the understandable self-identification of the local Church, by the political and apostolic uncertainty of the future. Perhaps we can reflect together on some of these points.


1. African Independence

Africa wants to become more and more itself. The trend towards political, economic, and cultural independence is normal and desirable. Within the limits of its mission, the Church should give an evangelical response to these attempts. In fact, the Church of Africa and Madagascar, having developed remarkably in many countries, wants to take charge of its own destiny. This has become quite clear to me since the last Synod and since the Symposium of the African Episcopal Conferences held at Abidjan last year. Pope Paul spoke in the same sense at Kampala, when he told the Africans that they should become missionaries to themselves. Although this indicates a change of perspective, the end to be attained remains the same: evangelization-but the means are different. It was also Pope Paul who said at Kampala that whereas at one time the impulse was given to the faith by missionary action from foreign countries, an impulse arising from the heart of Africa itself should now follow and be joined to the earlier thrust.


For seventy-five years the priests who came from Europe and America were directing the Church of Africa. They made the apostolic choices and they determined the methods. From now on, in the measure that the development of the local clergy permits it, the African and Malagasy leaders will make the important decisions in many cases. They will do this after having seriously studied the problem and sought the advice of their collaborators. The role of the non-African remains important but, instead of directing the work, foreigners should now become assistants, collaborators, and helpers. At this level their initiative can be great. Such a change of role will require a good deal of truly Ignatian indifference, an attitude of being totally available. There may be times when one will have the impression of being much less efficient than in the past. But this would be thinking too much of an immediate efficiency. In the long run, if everyone generously commits himself to this new perspective, all will continue “building up the Body of Christ” in Africa and Madagascar, and so be truly efficient. Our present time demands much adaptation, both on the part of Africans and of non-Africans. We should look for efficiency, and at the same time we should not be too attached to immediate results. We should keep in mind the important organizational principles, but we should also be able to by-pass them. We have to adjust to the means at hand. We must always give preference to respect rather than to success, to persons rather than to works, to Ignatian indifference rather than to security.


Young Jesuits of other continents who think of coming to Africa should be aware of these new perspectives of the apostolate. I suggest that they set out for this continent with the conviction that they will receive much from it: before a person gives he must know how to receive. Further, I ask them to set out for Africa and Madagascar with the desire to consecrate their entire lives to that enterprise. That is the normal attitude for a Jesuit missionary. However, there is always a possibility for some temporary service when a special task has to be performed.


For all the Jesuits working in Africa I gladly repeat the inspiring words of Pope Paul: “… you may, and you must, have an African Christianity. This may take time. It will be necessary that your African soul become imbued to its depth with the secret charisms of Christianity, so that these charisms may then overflow freely, in beauty and in wisdom, in the true African manner.” The extraordinary efflorescence of African independent Churches ought to help us reflect on this necessary Africanization and draw from it the pastoral consequences.


In some countries there are non-African priests and religious who ask themselves whether it might not be better to leave the country in order to allow the local Church to become itself. They wonder whether perhaps the presence of foreigners hinders this desirable evolution. At the Abidjan Symposium of Bishops—the majority of whom were African—they clearly asked that their collaborators from other continents remain at the service of Africa; they said that apostolic needs require their presence. In the great majority of cases, I agree with this opinion. If the first page of evangelization was written almost exclusively by non-Africans, the second page (that of today) will be written by the collaboration of Africans and foreigners, and the third page will, for the most part, be the work of the people of Africa and Madagascar alone.


2. Deployment of Manpower

Let us now pass on to another problem, one that preoccupies everyone: the lack of personnel with, at the same time, a constant increase in the number of those baptized, and the consequent needs that are to be filled. What should be done in this situation, which certainly will become more and more serious?


First of all, we should take every opportunity to awaken and to form religious and priestly vocations. This should be one of our main concerns. We should not be afraid to speak openly about vocations to the students of our schools. I feel that one of the principal services we can render the Church of Africa and Madagascar is to collaborate in the formation and spiritual inspiration of priests and religious.


We must also be alert to form a responsible laity who will be the animators of their Christian communities. We can diminish our individual preoccupation with a whole range of situations. Let us rather become animators who inspire the animators.


Finally, we should establish apostolic priorities, not only on the local level of a Province or of a region or of a community, but even on the individual level, so that each one of us tries to discern what is essential in the work assigned him and what is less important. Let us apply the criteria of apostolic discernment which Saint Ignatius has given us in the Constitutions. Let us have the courage to diminish our commitment or to abandon what is less important. Only in this way can we prepare for the future in an apostolic and realistic manner.


3. Recruitment of African Jesuits

Since vocations are one of the primary needs of Africa and Madagascar, I want to say a word about the specific support the Society can offer in this filed, of awakening many and good vocations to the Society in this part of the world. You know that recently the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples made it known that, in all mission countries, it would be desirable to have a harmonious development of both the diocesan and the religious clergy. To achieve this goal a special effort must be made in Africa where we have about 3500 African diocesan priests and only 250 African religious priests. Moreover, I am struck by the confidence Africa has in the Society. I have received numerous requests from Bishops, and even from some Chiefs of State, asking me for the collaboration of the Society in places where we have at the moment no Jesuits. It is not possible to fill these growing needs unless we recruit locally. I am hoping for numerous and good vocations on the local level. I would want them to be well-balanced young people who, while attached to their own countries, would still be available for whatever apostolic work needs to be done, whether it be at home or elsewhere. The missionary dimension so essential to our vocation ought to be developed also in the Society in Africa and Madagascar. The example of our Indian Jesuits is stimulating. Although their own nation has immense apostolic needs, they have already sent missionaries to Guyana, the island of Mauritius, Tanzania, and the Sudan. I also believe it to be indispensable that the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar should be formed to live generously according to the spirit of the Society and to have a profound knowledge of the Spiritual Exercises, not only to live the Exercises but also to be able to give them.


Furthermore, it is only right that the Society should be African in Africa, just as it is American in the United States and Spanish in Spain. Such pluralism is healthy, provided we are always animated by the genuine spirit of the Society and by a respect for the unity of the one body. How can we incarnate more fully the vow of poverty in the sociological reality of Africa? How can we reconcile the ties and obligations to our family with our apostolic indifference and availability? How can we live a community life in which Africans feel themselves spiritually and humanly at home? I would be glad to receive suggestions. In this field the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar have an important role to play.


Of course, the Africanization of the Society is a work common to all the Jesuits working in Africa. We all form but one body, composed of members who come from different continents and countries. Those from another continent are called by their vocation to identify with the country in which they work. The missionary commitment is total. If it were not, then there would be cause for suspicion. The pains and sufferings of a given country, its joys and hopes, its needs and problems, ought to be shared profoundly by all the Jesuits who live in it. On the other hand, the indigenous Jesuits of the country should wholeheartedly accept as brothers those who come from abroad. They are not mere “technicians” who must be tolerated, but they are true “companions” in the apostolate, animated by the same Ignatian ideal. Instead of looking too much to the past or fixing our sight on elements that could cause division, let us rather look to the future which we shall build together and let us keep an eye on the things that can unite us. Instead of considering the shortcomings of our foreign brother, let us concentrate on that which is positive. The same holds true for the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar among themselves who have their origins in different regions or countries.


In many parts of the African Assistancy the Society reveals an international character, and I am happy about this, for I see quite a few apostolic advantages in it. This manner of working is in line with our missionary vocation as it was from the beginning of the Society, even in the time of Saint Ignatius. Such internationalism allows us to give witness to catholicity; in turn, our apostolate is enriched because different outlooks and national experiences complement each other. Finally, in working this way it is easier to avoid the almost inevitable obstacles that can occur when the Jesuits working in a region are all of the same nationality. There is always a tendency to carry to the country where we work our own problematics, our national habits, our way of life, our notions of the religious life, our apostolic methods, and so on. When I consider the advantages of a certain internationalism I believe it is better not to entrust to Jesuits of the same nationality the exclusive service for a geographic area or for a work in the same Province or the same Mission. Let it be the aim for all of us to give a communal witness of universal charity and of radiant hope in the coming of the Kingdom of Our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.


4. Co-operation within the Assistancy

It is now one year since the African Assistancy was created. It was for apostolic motives that I decided on it. I hope that this meeting which begins today, and all those which will follow, will make it possible for you to study how you may be able to help each other more and more, whether on the level of the Assistancy or on that of the African regions that are sometimes called French-speaking or English-speaking. I also think it would be useful for you to compare the experiences you have had in the different sectors of your apostolate, the Major Seminaries, the Colleges, the Social Centers; to compare notes also about how to give and direct the Spiritual Exercises in Africa How should the religious life be adapted? How should young Jesuits be formed? How should rural pastoral work be conceived? Finally, there is the whole area of theological research. I have indicated this as being a priority for the whole Society. It appears urgent to do something in this field. In view of the experiences the Society has gained in several areas, and because the Society is serving in a number of countries, I think we have a real possibility of rendering great service to the Church in this part of the world. We are committed to this responsibility.


In a few days you will be returning home. I would ask you to give my greetings to all the Jesuits in your field of labor. Please tell them how much I appreciate their courageous and persevering dedication in spite of all sorts of difficulties. I am happy to see how the Society in Africa and Madagascar consecrates a very large part of its energies to the apostolate among the poor, and here I think in particular of all those who work in the rural areas. I want to encourage those who work in the very valuable educational apostolate; it has great importance for the future. As for those who devote themselves to giving spiritual guidance, I believe I can say to them that they render priceless services at a time when, in many countries, we should see to it that the faith is deepened rather than spread more widely. Finally, all those who cooperate in socio-economic development know the importance I attach to that apostolate. And I hope that in the future we may be able to have a few more Jesuits working in the field of mass-media.


5. Living in Hope

One last point I would like to discuss with you is the unrest many of you feel with regard to the future. In the coming years, what will be the political conditions and options in the countries where you are working? How long will non-African Jesuits still be accepted in these countries. How long will their collaboration continue to be really looked for? The work that is being done is still enormous, but fresh manpower does not seem in sight. Are the methods we use actually the best to prepare for the coming of God’s Kingdom? In a word, there are times when all of us ask ourselves what will happen tomorrow. Do not let this unrest discourage you, no more than the seeming uselessness of your efforts that can at times make the day look dark. You must realize that the present difficulties are signs of the times, events through which God speaks to us. His ways of pursuing His work can at times be quite disconcerting. Let this unrest and this obscurity help you to make an effort at reflection and imagination-but do it calmly. Let it stimulate you to pray more, for it is the light and strength of the Holy Spirit which we need most of all. Above all else, let it be for you an occasion to deepen profoundly your faith and your hope.




Original Source:

Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Missionary Vocation and the Apostolate,” pg. 55–77.

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