“Religious Evangelization during Crisis,” Pedro Arrupe (1976)

Journalist Renzo Giacomelli of the Vatican Radio Station conducted an interview with Pedro Arrupe in December 1976. A transcript of that exchange appears below. Among the topics considered is how men and women from religious orders can evangelize and develop man, especially when, as Giacomelli notes, “the crisis of religious institutes is widespread and profound.” The interview closes with the four reasons why Arrupe’s hopes for the future of the Society of Jesus outweigh any fears he may have.

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



Question: Let us start with a theme which is of interest to all religious. What contribution can these men and women who have embraced religious life make to evangelization and the development of men?


Arrupe: Their contribution depends, in part, on the nature of religious life itself, and, in part, on the distinctive foundational charism of each Institute. The purpose of all religious—even of the contemplatives—is evangelization. Therefore a characteristic trait of their contribution springs from the consecration which is proper to religious life.


Every Christian, by the mere fact of being one, has in some way or other to contribute to the work of evangelization, but the religious when he consecrates himself to God makes a special profession of following and imitating Christ as Savior of the world. And by this definitive surrender, total and perpetual, he becomes a full-time collaborator in the saving work of Christ, accepting the Gospel in all its radicalism.


Through his consecration, the religious, besides being set aside from the world and accepted by God, accepts a type of life which most closely approaches the ideal of the evangelizer. By his poverty he divests himself of all personal property and remains altogether free from every personal gain and interest.


By the vow of chastity, he enlarges his capacity to love all human beings for Christ, without thereby losing anything of the generosity that exists in every human heart, free to surrender himself to the service of others without the preference and limitations based on the personal and somewhat exclusive gift of oneself to a particular family. The family of the one consecrated to God by celibacy for the Kingdom is the entire human family.


Finally, through obedience the religious surrenders his freedom or rather raises it to a higher level when he commits himself to the following of God’s will, expressed by his superiors, a will which in his desire of the salvation of all men directs and renders efficacious the work of the world’s evangelization, whose only purpose is that “all men may come to the knowledge of the truth.”


Further, the religious consecration has the dynamic aspect of mission. Inasmuch as he is consecrated to God and accepted by him, the religious is “sent” to be an instrument, a fellow worker, an assistant of Christ in the task of the world’s salvation. Consecration and mission are two essential · aspects of every religious life, which from them receives a special depth and height.


But in addition, every religious family is the fruit of the Spirit, who revealed himself to the Founder, drawing him to the following of Christ within the general frame of this consecration, but along a particular and concrete line of this following. All the founders desire to follow and imitate Christ, but Christ is in-imitable in his totality, as his divine-human personality is infinitely rich and surpasses all power of imitation.


Thus each religious Institute contributes its share in a different manner and spirit, either in the form of contemplation through prayer and action, or in a pastoral form through prayer and action. This specific character of each individual religious family will manifest itself in work of the apostolate, education, care of the sick and needy, and other works of mercy.


It is beyond all doubt today, chiefly after the Second Vatican Council and recent Synods of Bishops, that human development is part and parcel of the work of evangelization. As this embraces the salvation of the whole man, a religious, when working for evangelization, works also for human development.


In fact, this is most evident everywhere throughout history, but perhaps more so in the work of the missions or, as we would say today, in the Third World. It suffices to recall how much the religious have done in this field for the human development of so many peoples and races, raising them from a primitive state until they could join the stream of the civilized world.


Since human development is not merely material progress and consists above all not precisely in man having more but in his being more, the development work of the religious is always directed to this goal unfailingly and explicitly.



Question: The role of the religious in the life of the Church and in society has lost nothing of its relevance and validity. However, the crisis of religious institutes is widespread and profound. Why? Why is today’s youth so reluctant to embracing religious life? And why have so many religious abandoned their calling?


Arrupe: Far from vanishing or becoming blurred, the role of the religious comes more and more into focus in these troublous times. Thus the richness of the charisms of the founders gains in depth and is gradually better understood, while the possibilities of their application to the present situation grow from day to day.


True, religious life is passing through a period which may be called critical, but this crisis is a sign of a process of purification, adaptation, and growth. Viewing things from the outside, superficially, one may see serious problems, difficulties, tensions. I say from the outside, that is, going by what people say and know of the religious.


The fact that there are thousands, hundreds of thousands of religious who pray, work with zest and joy, and in all fidelity seek eagerly their path to God in these moments of world “cultural revolution,” makes no headlines in the papers is not news, and. nobody seems to know…. What people know and papers print is what is strident and out of tune, what is subversive and scandalous; that is news and noised abroad and broadcast from the roofs to the four winds, even in the case of an insignificant minority, many of whom had already little left of the religious spirit.


For this reason, when speaking of a crisis, it would be better to give this word—if one has to use it at all—a constructive connotation, with an ambivalent sign, positive and negative. In order to erect a new construction, part of the old has often to be demolished, and a building in restoration may appear as if it was being destroyed, when in fact it is only being improved and embellished.


It is clear that religious life emerges from this crisis renovated rejuvenated, with a “new face.” It is something like the “Ecclesia semper renovanda” applied to this “charismatic” and prophetic group of the Church, which is the religious life in search of the “renovatio accommodate.”


The crisis of the religious has various and complex roots. In some cases the difficulties originate in an unwarranted interpretation of the essence of the charism and in having taken as the only model the way in which this charism had taken flesh in a particular moment in history. When some external circumstances changed, some may have been under the impression that the charism itself had lost its validity. But on closer consideration it has been discovered that what was taken as essential was nothing but a historically conditioned element, not identifiable with what is fundamental in the charism.


An example may throw some light on the point I am making. In the religious congregations dedicated to education, the founder or foundress endeavored to crystallize and incarnate the spirit of his or her congregation, according to the conditions of the teaching institutions of those days. Today, facing the difficulty that in some countries the religious are not permitted to possess schools or colleges of their own, one might think that the charism and the congregation itself have lost their purpose and outlived their usefulness. But a deeper study of the spirit of the founder shows that in his mind it was a question of educating the young, not precisely or exclusively in institutions owned by the congregation but by any other means which may go beyond the possibilities of schools of their own.


Another complex problem is the small number of youths applying to join the religious life. This is due, to a large extent, to the youth itself that is going through a moment of cultural obscurity, both at the human and the spiritual level, a period of disorientation and new aspirations. Today’s youth wishes to realize these aspirations through means and attitudes almost undefinable, which in the present circumstances pose a big question mark over the world as it has been built by earlier generations. Thus the young shrink from anything that means a total and life-time dedication to any undertaking, be it marriage or profession, including religious life that supposes a perpetual commitment. When John F. Kennedy presented his plan of the “Peace Corps,” he got 15,000 young volunteers, but for a commitment of two or three years only, not for life. On the other hand, religious life is going through a period of adaptation and re-adjustment required by the Church (Perfectae Caritatis, Vatican II) and consequently while the search is on, it cannot present its ideals and way of life in the same tidy and convincing manner as it did when things were more clear (at least to men of that time). The religious who go through this period of search and experimentation dare not proceed with the same direct action as before in the promotion of vocations. Though even this is slowly changing and in recent years religious are regaining, at least up to a degree, their confidence in and conviction regarding the relevance of their own institute.


The departures from religious life are due to a variety of reasons. One is, undoubtedly, the secularizing influence of today’s world, which requires from religious a series of attitudes and a solidity of virtue different from, if not greater than, what was required in an age of a more dis-incarnated spirituality. It may well be said that being a religious today presents more difficulties than in former times.


Another reason for the departures is the desire of “insertion” in the world that places the religious in situations for which they were not prepared. The variety of theological trends may influence not only religious life but faith itself. Briefly, it is the cultural change as a whole that exerts its influence even within the walls of our religious houses.



Question: Father Arrupe, you have, no doubt, ideas and plans to suggest for tidying over the crisis just described. What are they? Are they being applied in the Society of Jesus? With what results?


Arrupe: Yes, I do have some ideas. But I think these coincide with those that every General has. Since the causes are common the remedies to be applied must also to a great extent be common.


What matters most is that we religious be what we are expected to be. That is to say: let us be faithful to what the Lord asks of us through the charism of our founders and the genuine tradition of our institutes. This presupposes flexibility, depth of conviction, and courage to adapt our life and work, according to the spirit of each institute, to the new situation of the Church and the world. Therefore, a double responsibility is placed on us: that of delving into the spirit of our institute and that of truly being men of prayer and union with Christ, whom we wish to imitate.


Part of our effort at adaptation is the reading of the “signs of God” in today’s world; to learn how to decipher what God tries to tell us through world events; to know how to advance along with the human race, that under the impulse of the Spirit and amidst many errors and tragedies, goes ever forward trying to feel its way.


We stand in need of the “discernment of spirits” in our effort to assimilate what is good in the world of today and to steer our course between two extreme positions: that of those who remain stationary because “this was never done before,” and that of those who are only in favor of change and novelty and say “this has to be done because it is new.” Neither the old is bad for being old, nor is the new good for being new.


This is what we intend doing in the Society and what the 32nd General Congregation in particular intended through its decree on “Service of the Faith and Promotion of Justice.” In recent years many concepts have been studied in depth: authority-service, individual life-community life, poverty-witnessing-solidarity, institutional apostolate-free lance action, universal Church-local community, collaboration in joint pastoral programs of the Church and specific service of the Society. In the measure in which these binomial expressions are resolved or clarified, the adaptation can be brought about in a more effective fashion—rooted in the past, immersed in the present and facing the future.



Question: Which are the fields of greatest Jesuit presence and commitment in evangelization and human development? Are all these essential commitments or do you think that some of them could be abandoned with a view to a greater dedication to others?


Arrupe: As you know, our Society has a purpose that can be attained virtually in every type of apostolate. We live and work in 103 countries, in the most diverse situations. These range from the most technologically advanced nations to the most backward regions, from countries of the most complete liberty to those of the greatest ideological “slavery.” It is not easy, therefore, to give a very concrete answer. This much I can tell you, that following the 32nd General Congregation we endeavor today to develop this “service of the faith and promotion of justice” in four main directions, which I shall only enumerate:


1) Interdisciplinary theological reflection which may permit us to help in in-depth research, planning and solving the decisive human problems of today.


2) Educational work in all its amplitude, both institutional and non-institutional—that is the formation of man.


3) The social apostolate with a view to offering some aid in the great social problems of mankind and preparing men capable of transforming today’s world into a more just world—a work of conscientization and change of structures.


4) The mass-media in all its forms (publications, radio, TV, etc.), since these are the multipliers of ideas and the shapers of trends of thought.


In such a vast program and taking into account our very limited manpower, a process of selection is imperative for every region, province or nation. We must decide, after a thorough study of the situation, which are the fields that claim our first attention.


This is why today the highest importance is given to the “evaluation” of all our works and activities. Though the value of this process was never in doubt, it has at times been forgotten or carried out in a casual fashion, with the lamentable results of slipping into the groove of routine, immobilism and senile sclerosis in our works. Today, when the changing scene forces us to rethink our activities in order to adapt them in view of greater efficiency, the importance of this objective evaluation and of the determination of drawing from it some practical consequences, has been brought out in greater relief.


When this evaluation has been completed will appear clearly what works continue to have the same value they had before and therefore need no alteration; which others, on the other hand, must be transformed if they have to be useful; which ones have lost all meaning and must be discontinued; which, finally, are non existent but ought to exist and should therefore be undertaken instead of others of lesser significance and which should oblige us to suppress works that may have some value but are in fact an obstacle to works of greater moment.


All this implies a slow and careful process requiring much tact and sense of responsibility, given that enterprises that have been maintained for long years—and at times for centuries—cannot be transformed or suppressed without wounding the feelings of many deserving and illustrious persons, both inside and outside the Society. This process makes us confront conflicting duties: the need, on the one hand, of serving the Church and souls, and on the other, the need of avoiding to offend and hurt others when the moment comes of executing a decision.


I wish also to note that today the collaboration with other religious men and women, and chiefly with the world of the laity, affords us a new range of possibilities that permit the modification and multiplication of our activities. We witness this in some countries, where with fewer Jesuits we are able to maintain existing works, thanks to the intelligent and selfless cooperation of zealous lay apostles.



Question: What is your predominant feeling, Father Arrupe, about the future of your Order: one of fear or one of hope?


Arrupe: (a) No hesitation about it: the hopes are much greater than the fears. And the reason is very simple. Though there are, as there should be, many reasons to fear, there is an overall reason for hope that surpasses all fears: the trust in God, who is going to help us; and “si Deus pro nobis, quis contra nos?” Saint Ignatius used to give a very simple reason, that might sound trite and banal, but is profoundly theological: “The Lord has helped us till now, why shouldn’t he help us in future?”


(b) There should be, and in fact there are, many grounds for hope, such as the spiritual and apostolic renewal that is taking place in the Society, particularly after the last General Congregation. The Society has reflected, and continues reflecting, with deep realism on how it can serve the Church and mankind. On the other hand, she is fully convinced that this service, if it has to be effective, must be grounded on and inspired by an interior spirit all the more profound and solid as it is the more in touch with difficult situations in the world.


The awareness of this fact has grown on the Society not only “a priori” but also through the experience, all too eloquent, of these postconciliar years. For it has been demonstrated that where the spirit is lacking, there fails also the creativity and chiefly the spiritual stamina to persevere in our post of “Apostles of Christ,” and not to fall into the category of activists, of those namely who with tenacity pursue a goal for which they need not count with a special vocation that commits them unreservedly to Christ and his Gospel up to the cross.


This is why at present one can see in the Society so much interest in making the Spiritual Exercises, even for an entire month, in prayer groups and the practice of discernment, etc. The result has been a fresh and deeper understanding of the concept of “mission,” of community life, of union and mutual charity, of evangelical poverty, of work with those living at the margin of society with the consequent obligation of a life of greater detachment and austerity.


All these are signs of the Spirit at work giving us in an efficacious manner a share in the Ignatian inspiration adapted to our times.


(c) As can be seen from the above there are many strong reasons for hope, but it is clear also that there are reasons for fear. There is the danger of an exaggerated secularization, an activism without measure or control, the lack of fidelity to the Church, internal tensions which make for disunion, the weakening of authority and obedience, the loss of the spirit of prayer, the seduction of modern consumerism, the lack of the spirit of poverty, the ideologization of the Gospel, and others.


(d) All this could be summarized in the fundamental fear of not being faithful to our spirit and vocation, for then we could not claim God’s help. But our hope is based precisely on this: that the Lord is not going to allow us to be unfaithful, as he has not for 400 years, and that, therefore, we can count with his help.




Original Source:

Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “Contribution of Religious to Evangelization and Development,” pg. 195–204.

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