Pedro Arrupe delivered the following message to the 1976 General Assembly of the Executive Council of World Federation to celebrate the service provided by the Christian Life Community (CLC). The CLC is an international group of lay Christians that receives inspiration from Jesuit spirituality and receives guidance from Jesuits themselves. Arrupe focuses his remarks on the theme of the gathering, “Poor with Christ for a Better Service: The Vocation of CLC in the Mission of the Church. He comments that the General Assembly meets when “solidarity with the poor is surely what is needed in a world where the cry of the oppressed grows ever louder, and where we Christians are called by the leaders of our Church, as never before, to witness to justice, whatever the cost to us might be.” The meeting, which Arrupe did not attend, took place in Manila.
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As you gather in the Philippines for your General Assembly, a world community of lay people committed to the full living of the Spiritual Exercises in the world, you are all much in my thoughts and prayers. Your theme—“Poor with Christ for a Better Service: The Vocation of CLC in the Mission of the Church”—is one I find both apt and stirring. I know you intend to pursue it in a climate of true discernment. And with the long and thorough preparation you have been making, I am sure you will do so effectively.
I find especially courageous and inspiring your decision to accompany your Assembly with three different formation courses, all deeply rooted in the Spiritual Exercises, so that, in coming together from the four corners of the planet, you can make the fullest use of the occasion to enter more deeply into the way of life you have chosen. I am happy too that your World Federation, while insistent on the lay responsibility which is its special characteristic, reflects too a close and mutually fruitful collaboration between laity, clergy and religious the ensemble of your activities.
Your theme, I said, finds a special place in my heart. May I say a word more to tell you why? Your stress on solidarity with the poor is surely what is needed in a world where the cry of the oppressed grows ever louder, and where we Christians are called by the leaders of our Church, as never before, to witness to justice, whatever the cost to us might be. But I am especially pleased with your clear grasp of the fact that, for a Christian, solidarity with the poor begins with identification with Jesus, the Man-for-others, who emptied himself totally and, becoming poor for our sakes, lived and died in poverty and in solidarity with the poor.
Above all is this true for us whose following of Christ is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises. The Christ we have met in the great meditations on the Kingdom, the Two Standards, the Third Mode of Humility, is a Christ who is poor, powerless and rejected and if we want to be with Him to be where He is, we too will need to “choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches.” So our identification with the poor must, it seems to me, spring from this faith-experience of Christ’s emptying of himself.
But this is not enough. We need also, in some way, to become poor ourselves. The language in which such poverty is expressed today is simplicity of living: opting for a simple life, one that excludes ostentation and vanity and a preoccupation with creature comforts. It means saying no both to our built-in egoism and to the consumer society that incessantly prods us to want to acquire more and to possess more.
We need something else as well: to know what the poverty of poor people is in actuality. We need a lived experience of being really poor. I notice that one of your formation courses aims at affording such an experience, in ways that are compatible with the family and occupational obligations that many of you have. Let me congratulate you on this initiative. It will surely, by giving you an experimental knowledge of the places and ways in which Christ poor lives and labors in our world of 1976, fit you for “a better service” in that world.
And this identification with Christ poor you see as what it is: an expression of your own participation in mission. Participation in the mission of Christ, who said of himself: “He sent me to bring the good news to the poor.” Participation in the mission of the Church, to whose leaders Jesus passed on his mission: “As the Father sent me, so I also send you.” Our witness to justice, our solidarity with the poor, our simplicity of living is, then, part of our mission, the mission to which we have been called. It is a mission whose concrete implementation requires much discernment and takes many forms: from relieving immediate needs to transforming the structures of whatever kind and on whatever level—and not least the international level—that are barriers, sometimes stubborn and unyielding barriers, to the building of God’s kingdom of justice and love.
So your theme and orientations of “Manila ’76” find a strong echo in my own heart. And indeed, in the whole Society of Jesus. Enough to say that the key decree of our recent Jesuit General Congregation was that on “Our Mission Today: the Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice.”
I hope that all this vast effort and wonderful goodwill will express itself in works. We can well apply here, I think, what Pope Paul VI wrote in his Apostolic Letter, Octogesima Adveniens: “Let each one examine himself, to see what he has done up to now, and what he ought to do. It is not enough to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustices and utter prophetic denunciations; these words will lack real weight unless they are accompanied for each individual by a livelier awareness of personal responsibility and by effective action. It is too easy to throw back at others responsibility for injustices, if at the same time one does not realize how each one shares in it personally, and how personal conversion is needed first.”
May this be, then, a gathering from which issues the true conversion of each one, a conversion that then goes on to show itself in works and in effective and intelligent action, that is, in what you express in your theme: “poor for a better service: the vocation of CLC in the mission of the Church.”
We must be convinced that the undertaking the Lord asks of us today is difficult and that there is need to count of course on the help of God, but also on persons who are determined and generous. Otherwise, we may hear the words that God said to Gedeon: “There are too many people with you … proclaim this now in the ears of the people: Let anyone who is frightened or fearful go home!”
My warm good wishes, then, as your Assembly begins its deliberations. May the Spirit of God, who was upon Jesus as he began his mission at Nazareth, and who is “Father of the poor, Giver of gifts, Light of hearts,” be with you in your labors. And may St Ignatius Loyola, from whom, in different ways, you as we draw our inspiration, win for you from Christ Poor the grace to “know Him more intimately, love Him more ardently, follow Him more closely.”
In warmest friendship,
Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
General of the Society of Jesus
Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “Ecclesial Service of the Christian Life Communities,” pg. 221–224.