“Why Collaboration,” Pedro Arrupe (1975)

Six months after the conclusion of the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus in 1975, Pedro Arrupe hosted representatives from provinces and other Jesuit organizations to discuss the issue of collaboration. The meeting was particularly sparked by the congregation’s Decree 4, “Our Mission Today.” Below appears the text of Arrupe’s remarks to the representatives gathered in Rome. Arrupe focuses on the failures of Jesuits to collaborate within the Society’s existing structures before noting the new “limitations and possibilities.” “Interprovincial and international collaboration should lead us to a closer solidarity,” Arrupe declares, “and to a more generous sharing of our material and human resources to satisfy apostolic needs, wherever these needs are greater and more urgent.”

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





1. Cutting across Provincial and National Boundaries

Often there has been talk in the Society about interprovincial and international collaboration and about the international dimensions of our life and apostolate. During these last years many factors have contributed to develop the international awareness of Jesuits and have led to greater communication and collaboration among our different provinces, particularly at the national and regional level, but also at the level of the universal Society. Communication and cooperation have also increased among Jesuits working in different sectors of apostolic activity across provincial and national boundaries. Many concrete examples could be mentioned to illustrate this. The setting up of new channels and structures of government, communication and collaboration at the national or assistancy level, or specialized secretariats for the whole Society in Rome, have also contributed to accelerate this trend. Many of those present here in this meeting have been and are actively engaged in these developments.


The increased interprovincial and international cooperation in the Society reflects one of the salient features of the modern world. It has been made possible thanks largely to modern technical advances in the fields of communication and transportation. Today we can do at the international level what a few decades ago we could not even dream of.


The reason for this meeting, therefore, is not to discuss something entirely new, but to develop further that communication and cooperation in the Society by learning from our past experience, from our achievements and from our failures, and in the light of present apostolic needs and trends. We are still very far from having fully exploited our international potential and all the possibilities offered to us by the development of the modern means of communication.


It might be good right from the start to dispel any doubts or misunderstandings that could arise about the need for this interprovincial and international collaboration. There are still some who, while granting the need for a few common works and services, are rather skeptical about that collaboration, particularly at the international level. They seem to believe only in the international cooperation which might help them to carry on better the task that they are already doing at the local, provincial and sometimes national level. And even then, given the great variety of situations in the different regions and cultures, the advantages of such cooperation appear to them necessarily very limited. It is at the local level, they say, that people with concrete needs and problems are met and that our apostolic presence and action are really required. Besides, needs are numerous and urgent and the resources available to answer them are not only limited, but in many regions rapidly decreasing. They do not see, therefore, why their time, attention and energy, already so heavily taxed should be diverted to consider other problems which, if not less real, have apparently little bearing on the reality in which they work, and remain out of their reach and influence. In this context, to talk about greater communication and collaboration at the interprovincial and international level, may appear to them as something utopic, as a kind of escapism from the demands that concrete situations place on us.


2. Steady Drudgery Work not against Jesuit Mobility

No doubt that there is some danger of running away from concrete local realities and taking refuge in a vaguely defined international apostolate; of avoiding the often hard and monotonous labor of a pastor, professor, administrator, writer or scientist, for less exacting and more pleasant tasks, in the exercise of which we enjoy sometimes greater freedom and we experience less the demands of our religious and community life.


As I shall point out later, the opposite danger is also very real. It is true, however, that most Jesuits will be called to work at a definite task, in a particular city or province and with or for a limited number of people. They will spend most of their lives in those places and occupations and among those people. Their primary obligation will be to exercise as best they can those concrete tasks. But even then we cannot forget the international nature of the Jesuit vocation: international not only in the sense of being ready to be sent wherever there is hope of God’s greater glory and the service of men. All of us wherever we are and whatever we do, have to express somehow the international character of our vocation.


3. Jesuit Charism of Universality

As I already stated on another occasion: “Religious have a special responsibility for developing in themselves and in the Christian communities in which they work an international concern and a worldwide view of today’s problems. Religious institutes ‘may be removed from the jurisdiction of the local ordinaries by the Supreme Pontiff and subjected to himself alone. This is done in virtue of his primacy over the entire church in order to provide more fully for the necessities of the entire flock of the Lord and in consideration of the common good.’ This concern that religious should have for the good of the universal church should be reflected in their dedication to meet one of the most urgent pastoral and missionary needs of our time: to instill in all a true love and respect for neighbor which will go beyond the narrow limits of one’s own country or culture and embrace the whole of mankind.”


If this is true of all religious, how much more of Jesuits. When we enter into the Society of Jesus, strictly speaking, we do not join a particular province or assistancy, but the corpus umversale Societatis. We are directly called to serve the apostolic needs not so much of a particular country or region, but of the whole world and of the universal Church.


We can say, therefore, that a Jesuit fails in his apostolic duty if he does not try to develop in himself and in those among whom he works a concern for the universal good of the Church and of mankind. In a way, then, we need always to keep in touch with the needs and problems which the Church and the Society face in regions and cultures different from our own, if we are to fulfill adequately our own task, here and now.


Interprovincial and international collaboration should help us to give an international dimension to the concrete task that we are called to perform. Interprovincial and international collaboration should lead us to a closer solidarity and to a more generous sharing of our material and human resources to satisfy apostolic needs, wherever these needs are greater and more urgent. These aspects are extremely important and we are still far from the ideal, in spite of the progress achieved in their regard. But, as you are well aware, when we speak about the international apostolate, we mean more than this. Interprovincial and international cooperation is also and mainly necessary to meet needs and problems which are not local in nature, but common to several provinces, nations or regions: problems which are of a truly international and universal nature. Because of this, these problems are not less real or less grave and urgent. On the contrary their international or universal nature should place them among our apostolic priorities. Whatever we do for their understanding and solution is bound to have a world-wide impact: “The more universal and good, the more is it divine” (Const. 622d). This principle of the Constitutions is taken up again in the Epitome: In seligendis ministeriis han’c regulam sequitur Societas, ut quaerat semper maius divinum obsequium et utilitatem magis universalem.” In the Constitutions we are continually reminded by St. Ignatius that we should “keep always in view the greater service of God and the universal good” (e.g. Const. 623a; 650). In the time of St. Ignatius this universal good was conceived more in terms of persons or places “which, through their own improvement, become a cause which can spread the good accomplished to many others who are under their influence or take guidance from them” (Const. 622d). Today, without denying the universal impact that particular persons and places can have, we would rather emphasize the universal and global importance of spiritual well-being of large segments of the human race. The principle of St. Ignatius, about the priority to be given to the more universal good, keeps all its validity today.


Are we convinced of this? Are we convinced in such a way that we are ready to make the necessary sacrifices which this implies? St. Ignatius, after enumerating certain criteria that should guide Superiors in the choice of the missions or ministries entrusted to Jesuits, adds: “When everything mentioned above is equal and when there are some occupations which are of more universal good and extend to the aid of more of our fellowmen … and others which are concerned more with individuals … and when further it is impossible to accomplish both sets of occupations simultaneously, preference should be given to the first set, unless there should be some circumstances through which it would be judged that to take up the second set would be more expedient” (Const. 623f).




4. Local Culture and World-wide Interest in GC 32

The last General Congregation was very aware of the great diversity of situations that we encounter in our apostolate, in the different regions where we work, and which require from us great flexibility and adaptability. It emphasized the need for a more resolute insertion into the concrete human and social reality, for a deeper knowledge and awareness, not only conceptual but experienced and lived, of the concrete conditions in which men live and work today and of the concrete problems and needs that they experience. But at the same time, it also stressed that today the challenges we face are not simply of a local nature. It recognized that some of the major problems of our time have a universal and global extent and hence require a universal and global approach: think, e.g., of the root-causes of contemporary unbelief, atheism and injustice; think of the impact of secularization on our religious life and apostolic works all over the world.


Speaking of inculturation, the Congregation remarked that we “must take into account not only the cultural values proper to each nation but also the new, more universal values emerging from the closer and more continuous interchange between nations in our time. Here, too, our Society is called upon to serve the Church; take part in her task of aggiornamento, of ‘bringing up-to-date:’ that is, of incarnating the Gospel in these values as well, these new values that are becoming increasingly planetary in scope.”


The universal nature of many of today’s problems, and the need for closer cooperation and coordination of our resources and of our efforts to meet them, became even more apparent when the Congregation looked at the world from the point of view of our mission today in the service of faith and for the promotion of justice: “The extent to which our contemporaries depend on one another in their outlook and even in their religious aspirations, to say nothing of the structural connections that span our planet, makes this overall coordination of our efforts indispensable if we are to remain faithful to our apostolic mission.”


As you know, the 32nd General Congregation concluded its decree on Our Mission Today with an appeal for a greater international collaboration in the Society, as required by our service of faith and the promotion of justice. The Congregation was well aware that this collaboration cannot be achieved without sacrifices and without “a real availability and openness to change,” because it will “shake us up in our settled habits or trouble our horizons, which may be less than all-embracing.”


Though the international apostolate may be seen by some as an escape from concrete needs and responsibilities, today the dangers of exaggerated provincialisms, nationalisms or regionalisms are in a way greater. We have certainly apostolic responsibilities towards our own province, country or culture and towards our own local churches, but this should not make us forget our Jesuit commitment to the more universal good of mankind and of the Church.


Nor should we get so involved in local tasks that we are unable to think of any other need which does not directly fall under our concrete responsibility here and now. Sometimes the comfortable feeling of being “at home” among people who know and understand us, the sense of security that a permanent job or working contract provide, greatly diminish our apostolic freedom and mobility, and our interest and concern for broader issues and problems.


While recognizing the specific cultural character of our own country or region, we should not over-emphasize that specificity to the extent of denying our common cultural heritage and the many common factors that today, more than in the past, bind all of us together in one human family and in one Church of God.


Some, Jesuits not excluded, seem to believe that their local problems and needs are so specific that nobody else can understand them or help in solving them. Others are so convinced of the value and importance of their own culture that they feel there is little or nothing to learn from others.


The fact that today foreigners find it difficult to get admittance into some countries and also the present stress being laid on the need for each local church and each country to free themselves from foreign dependence and to develop with their own means and resources, have sometimes contributed to lower the esteem for international solidarity. Whatever is foreign tends to be seen as an obstacle to a healthy development.


We have to recognize and accept the positive values of modern trends, but we cannot be blind to some of their ambiguities and dangers. A greater interprovincial and international cooperation is demanded from us by the apostolic needs of the times and also in virtue of our own Jesuit vocation: “The apostolic body of the Society to which we belong should not be thought of just in terms of the local community. We belong to a province, which should itself constitute an apostolic community in which discernment and coordination of the apostolate on a larger scale than at the local level can and should take place. Moreover, the province is part of the whole Society, which also forms one single apostolic body and community. It is at this level that the overall apostolic choices and guidelines must be decided and worked out: choices and guidelines for which we should all feel jointly responsible.”


5. Trend of Vatican II

The General Congregation, therefore, was not simply “innovating,” but merely applying to present conditions and trends, the principles that have always been characteristic of our apostolic life and activity. It was part of the renovation accommodata requested from us by the Church through the Second Vatican Council and already initiated by the previous Congregation. If we read again the documents of that Council, we will realize that what the 32nd General Congregation is asking from us in the field of interprovincial and international cooperation, is, after all, only to implement faithfully and in an eminent way, in the context of our own particular vocation, what the Church expects from all Christians in the present circumstances.


The international dimension of the Church’s mission, the need for international cooperation and for organized forms of apostolate at the international level to meet present needs are repeatedly stressed in several of the Council documents, but particularly and with greater insistence, as it was to be expected, in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. In the light of that Constitution and of more recent documents of the magisterium, the directives of the General Congregation concerning our role in the international field appear rather modest and make us realize the smallness of our contribution so far: smallness that makes us feel as belonging to “this least Society of Jesus,” not only because our resources and possibilities are necessarily limited, but because, in spite of repeated appeals, we are still very far from having achieved in the field of interprovincial and international collaboration what we should achieve and the Church and the men of today expect from us.


6. Earlier Congregations

I say “repeated appeals,” because before the 32nd General Congregation, other Congregations had already insisted on the importance of the international apostolate and on the need for interprovincial cooperation. Already in 1938, when the interdependence of men one on the other and the key role of the mass-media of social communication in shaping public opinion were much less evident than today, the 28th General Congregation urged us, while continuing to carry on the traditional apostolic ministries, to get more and more involved in activities designed to influence that opinion at all levels: “ut … tota societas humana doctrina Evangelii penetretur atque intime reformetur.”


Almost twenty years later, the 30th General Congregation, convinced of the need to foster a “universal spirit” and mentality in the Society, not only promulgated a decree on this question, but also requested Fr. General to issue norms to foster the establishment and development of interprovincial and international works. Among these, special attention was given to the apostolate with international organizations and with the people working in them.


Finally, the 31st General Congregation stressed once again the importance of international organizations and issued a decree on interprovincial cooperation “which is more and more a requisite for our apostolic action today.” Among other things, that Congregation requested that each meeting of all the Provincials, when it is assembled under the presidency of Fr. General, should treat explicitly of this interprovincial cooperation. This decree, as well as the decree of the 30th General Congregation requesting us to foster a “supraprovincial and supranational spirit,” keep all their meaning and relevance today. I invite you to read them again and meditate on them during these days.


7. Our Limitations and Possibilities

We cannot do everything. We should be realistic and humble. We should realize that we are only a small group within God’s Church: smaller still if we consider all the men and organizations outside the Church that, with a relative abundance of personnel and material resources, strive to solve some of the very problems that concern us. It is true. We should not simply raise hopes and expectations that we cannot possibly in any way fulfill. On the other hand, it is also true that the Society still counts with a considerable number of highly qualified men and institutions and with a worldwide organization which under some respects is unique in the Church.


In spite of our shortcomings and limitations, we are better equipped than other religious groups to meet the international challenges of today’s world. I cannot forget the words that the Holy Father addressed to us, at the beginning of the 32nd General Congregation: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the front line of social conflict, there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, here also there have been, and there are Jesuits.”


While these words reveal the high esteem in which the Holy Father holds the Society, they also place on us great demands and a tremendous responsibility. We should be there where the universal Church needs us today; there where the big battles are fought and the future of man is being shaped. Are we really there and in the way the Church wants us to be?


We are not alone on the battle field, and in certain areas like, e.g., the promotion of justice, powerful international organizations and many men of good will are also deeply involved. But the contribution that the Church expects from us does not always coincide with their contribution. Our specific concern, as apostles, priests and religious, are not always exactly theirs. In any case, it is a fact that we are often approached by the Church and our cooperation is requested to provide light and guidance regarding some of the major problems of our age having international dimensions. At times we have to give a negative reply: sometimes because we do not seem to have the needed resources, at least in the number or of the quality required; but sometimes also because we lack the means or the will to mobilize effectively for the good of the universal Church, the limited resources that we do have.


8. Universal Aspect of Decree 4 to be Implemented

The decree of the 32nd General Congregation on Our Mission Today offers us an excellent opportunity to reflect once again on our international responsibilities towards the Church and the men of today: to reflect and to think realistically, but also radically and creatively, of concrete means to strengthen the international dimensions of our apostolate and to mobilize our resources on a world-wide basis, at the service of faith and for the promotion of justice.


The main thrust and impact of this decree, once it has been translated in terms of concrete objectives and programs, will be naturally felt at the provincial and national level. However, in countries where we have several provinces, some interprovincial cooperation and coordination will be necessary to insure its successful implementation at the national level: e.g., in U.S.A., India, Spain, and other countries of Western Europe. There are aspects of this decree that will need the collaboration of all our provinces in regions comprising several nations and facing similar cultural, religious and social problems: think, e.g., of Latin America. Other points in the decree might require cooperation on an even larger scale.


Some of these touch problems which may assume different forms in different regions, but which contain enough common elements to justify being studied at the international level, without excluding more specific studies at lower levels. I am thinking—to mention a concrete example in the field of reflection and study—of the need to clarify and further develop what constitutes today our specific contribution, as priests and religious, to social change and to the promotion of justice, particularly regarding the political dimensions of that promotion: a problem which we encounter today in many of the regions where we work. The same could be said of problems regarding the service of faith in today’s secularized world: a question on which an exchange of ideas and experiences is already being fostered throughout the whole Society. Finally, some other aspects, by their very nature, seem to demand a concerted approach at the international level, both in the field of study and action: examples of this are the present search for a new international economic order and also for a new humanism that, while meeting the needs of our technological Society, will also answer man’s deepest religious and human aspirations.


In any hypothesis, the implementation of this decree, even at the local and provincial level, would greatly benefit by a frequent exchange of information, reflection and experiences on a world-wide basis. Out of this exchange common problems might emerge which at present we do not even suspect and which might provide the basis for concrete cooperation programs among the Provinces of one or several assistancies or even of the whole Society.


Cooperation at the international level has also other advantages that, though of secondary importance, cannot be entirely overlooked. Often, for example, it is much easier to get from foundations or aid-giving agencies the necessary resources to finance projects of local or national interest, if these projects can be presented as part of an overall and well coordinated international approach to solve common problems.


The purpose of this meeting is to study the problem of interprovincial and international cooperation in the light of the decree on Our Mission Today and, if possible, to come out with some concrete proposals, at least of a pilot nature, to set this collaboration in motion, in a few well-defined areas and regions. To this effect, it will help to reflect on past attempts in the field of interprovincial cooperation, so that we learn from our experience and do not commit again the same mistakes. We have also to see how existing structures of government and the channels of communication can be strengthened and better utilized to foster that cooperation, and whether new structures or channels are necessary.


You are not going to answer all the questions and solve all the problems simply in one meeting. But you can certainly make a very valuable contribution in a field which is of vital importance for our apostolic mission today and even for the future of the Society as an international body at the service of the universal Church.




Original Source:

Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “Why Interprovincial and International Collaboration,” pg. 185–197.

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