“A Beacon of Hope in a World of Despair,” Pedro Arrupe (1977)

An assembly of alumni of Jesuit schools, attracting from 400 delegates in all, met in Padua, Italy, in August 1977. The official congress had the theme: “Is the Church still the Bearer of Men’s Hopes?” Addressing those delegates and that theme, Superior General of the Society of Jesus Pedro Arrupe delivered the following remarks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arrupe responds in the affirmative that, yes, the Church remains the bearer of hope but that it may not remain so. His conclusion serves as a call to action by the Church, the Jesuits, and their students and alumni. “We shall become bearers of hope,” Arrupe concludes, “only when, we not only possess the truth that saves, but, like Christ, our lives are such that show the way to that truth and inspire others to follow it.”

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




The Church’s Role in Presenting True Values

“Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have.” This was how St. Peter advised the first Christians to meet the difficult times in which they lived. And he added that they should do it “with courtesy and respect.” How would we reply today if asked to explain the hope we have within us? Do we have hope within us? Are we ready to give an account of it to others?


If we look at the world around us, the signs of the times we read seem to be those of despair rather than hope. I have just returned from a trip to Asia where I met with my Jesuit brothers working throughout the East. While there I was able to visit one of the “lines” on a tea estate, a long low shed of small dark rooms, back to back, each housing an entire family in subhuman conditions of poverty, disease and hunger that I find hard to describe yet harder still to forget. It was just one among hundreds of others, the typical home of an estimated one million immigrant Tamil workers deprived of all rights and services. What signs of hope are here when we know that similar conditions are repeated in so many other countries in the Third World, that the numbers of the poor are increasing year by year, that their situation is becoming relatively worse in comparison with the well-off?


And nearer home what does the picture look like? Crime and violence seem to be on the increase in many European countries, and all report widespread unemployment, rising costs and growing disillusionment, especially among the young.


Today man experiences, at the individual and at the social level, a deep emptiness, a spiritual void that neither technological progress nor materialistic ideologies can fill up. Disillusioned in his search for something that transcending him might give him meaning and freedom, man turns to himself only to discover his utter inability to attain alone and unaided his final destiny. Torn between, on the one hand, a rationalism and a technology that often manipulate and dehumanize him, and, on the other, an hedonism which, instead of fulfilling him, only accentuates his inner solitude and dissatisfaction, man looks for support and understanding among his fellowmen. But this emerging hope soon vanishes, when he finds men deeply divided, envious and mistrustful of one another, and when he discovers that the community—which was to be his main source of security and support—threatens to absorb him and deprive him even of his personal freedom and identity.


What of the Church itself? The very title of your Conference indicates doubt and uncertainty. “Is the Church still the bearer of man’s hopes?” Does that “still” have the same force as the Latin word num which, as we used to be taught, introduces questions expecting the answer no? Some will surely think so and feel tempted to apply to the Church the words of the famous hymn: “Change and decay in all around I see.” A few do not accept and even condemn the changes that have taken place. Yet, at the same time, for others they are neither fast enough nor radical enough. And so we have deep divisions, bitter controversy.


Much is said about the “post-Christian era” in which we are supposed to live, as if history had already bypassed the Church and its message. It cannot be denied that church attendance has fallen, the number of vocations has dwindled and institutions, even old and famous ones, are sometimes struggling to survive or being obliged to close down. Earlier this year a conference was held in Brussels to discuss the reasons for “the increasing irrelevance or marginalization of the Church and Catholic organizations at national and international levels.”


And if we turn outside Europe, we find in a number of countries that the Church is being actively persecuted not only by atheist regimes but by governments claiming to be Christian and Catholic. Jesuits have been or are still imprisoned, expelled and even assassinated by those who persecute them precisely for doing the very thing our last General Congregation asked of them: to promote justice as an essential part of their service of faith.


The grounds for hope seem slender indeed. But are we reading the signs of the times aright? Have we stopped to ponder what we are really hoping for? What, in other words, our true values are? Is it not possible we are men of little hope because our hopes are false ones and because we wish to base them on ambiguous grounds?



I. False Hopes of the World

When the Devil tempted Jesus in the Desert, he challenged him to do three things:


— to change stones into bread,

— to cast himself from the top of the temple,

— to bow down and adore him.


These three temptations express succinctly the three great false hopes of mankind. And they are as powerful and compelling as ever in our world of today. Nor is the Church free of them, nor any one of us here present at the moment. It is essential, therefore, we make an effort to understand them and see what effect they have on our personal lives, our families and the society we live in.


A. Stones to Bread

The first temptation is the lure of material wealth and comfort. It is now 10 years since Pope Paul VI, in his great Encyclical Populorum Progressio, declared that “development cannot be limited to mere economic growth.” And in words that have grown in significance, he warns that: “Increased possession is not the ultimate goal of nations nor of individuals…. The exclusive pursuit of possessions thus becomes an obstacle to individual fulfilment and to man’s true greatness.”


Yet on all sides we see people wanting to possess ever more and more. We are offered not stones but a dazzling variety of goods and services and invited, with all the persuasive power of the mass media, to believe we can convert them into happiness and fulfilment. It is not easy to resist when so many around us are taken in. So the tide of consumerism grows, sweeping all before it: values, cultures, even ideals are swamped. We are no exception, nor in spite of its built-in defenses is even the Church itself exempt.


B. Cast Self Down

The second temptation of Jesus was to make a show of his power by miraculously saving himself from self-induced injury. Today what are termed the “power struggle” and “power politics” have become worldwide phenomena. And they are backed by the most massive production of arms known to history. Even nations in which the majority of the people lack the basic essentials of life are spending high proportions of their national income on destructive weapons. In this they are aided and abetted by the wealthier nations who last year sold them some $20-billion worth of arms, four times more than all other aid given.


C. Bow and Adore

The third of Jesus’s temptations was to bow down and adore. Modern man is similarly tempted to bow down before ideologies, systems of thought or social structures and attribute to them, in theory or practice, an absolute right or claim. In consequence they end by enslaving him, even though he is sometimes not aware of this. Whether it be the supremacy of the profit motive, competition and private ownership—as in some forms of liberal capitalism—or whether the supremacy of the party, the class struggle and ideological materialism—as in some forms of marxist socialism—both excesses deny that “liberty, responsibility and openness to the spiritual which guarantee the integral development of man.” Man becomes a “nameless number” as it were on an assembly line; he is “depersonalized” by being stripped of his rights as a human person; he is no longer considered to be a man but a thing. The temptation to worship false idols is not something peculiar to primitive peoples, whether in biblical or modern times. The false idols of our present-day civilization are all the more insidious for being more sophisticated and better disguised.


By rejecting to worship God and to serve Him, man also rejects the only truth that, transcending time and space, can truly satisfy and liberate him. And man bows and adores the limited and concrete truths, the value of which, here and now, he can easily “ascertain.” He lives simply in the present, deliberately forgetting the past, which he thinks has nothing to say to him, and not wishing to think much of the future, which he subconsciously dreads. He accepts only that which “works,” produces immediate results or provides temporary solutions at least for today. Pragmatism, efficiency and immediatism, also become idols that enslave man.


The three temptations I have just outlined are as present and active in the world as at any time of its history. Day after day they affect the way we look at things, the way we treat people, the way we do our jobs, the way we behave at home in our families. They affect the policies and actions of governments and of all the thousands of organizations and institutions that make up our society. And they also affect the Church, the teaching it proclaims and the witness it gives. In so far as it is tainted by them, it betrays its mission and becomes the bearer of the false hopes of mankind. Hence the ever-present need for conversion and reform so often stressed by Pope Paul.



II. Christ’s Remedy

Jesus overcame his temptations in the desert through his prayer and penance. The gospel account emphasizes that, after 40 days and nights of fasting, when the Tempter came “he was very hungry.” Later on He himself told his disciples that some forms of evil could only be overcome by prayer and fasting. What measure of prayer or penance do we find in our own lives today or in the life of the Church as a whole? These are not popular concepts. They do not figure as priorities for social reform or a new world order. To many they will sound outmoded, traditional. Yet they express a reality, a need that is as acute as it is contemporary.



III. Real Hopes of the World

 A. Not By Bread Alone

“Not by bread alone does man live,” Jesus replied to the Tempter. Modern man is beginning to grasp the importance of these words in a new way. He is becoming increasingly aware that the attempt to live by bread alone is a sure way to destroy life. I cite two examples of this.


As we near the end of the Second Development Decade, planners and experts are finally coming to admit that development is not merely a question of increasing per capita income. The bankruptcy of this policy is only too evident in many Third World countries where an exaggerated concentration on economic factors has led to the growth of poverty rather than its diminution. Hence the importance of the “basic needs” approach to development which puts people first and looks at their real and human needs. The process can only start with them, where they are, and with themselves participating fully in everything.


Secondly, the material abundance of the wealthy countries, unparalleled in history, has shown itself to be a mixed blessing. The consumerism mentioned already has not necessarily improved the quality of life and, in some countries, among some groups, is being deliberately rejected. Material bread alone enslaves man: it does not liberate him. Man’s freedom, as the Vatican Council put it, “withers when he indulges in too many of life’s comforts.” For these and other reasons too there is a new call to austerity from various quarters as a condition for both individual and corporate survival.


Today, the need for austerity is brought home to us by the very excesses and the uncontrolled development of our industrial society, which can lead mankind to the brink of global disaster, unless present trends are reversed or radically modified. This is an entirely new problem which the generations that preceded us had not to face.


Drastic solutions calling for drastic sacrifices from all of us are required. All governments and political parties, be they of the right or of the left, are well aware of this, but nobody seems to have the courage to adopt measures which are bound to become unpopular and of which the beneficial effects will only be felt in the long run. Hence little or nothing is done and when somebody attempts to do something, the reaction cannot be more violent and more negative: “Why us? Why should we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others? Let others begin!” An attitude in harmony with the Gospels should be austere and anti-consumerist in nature. Austerity is not opposed to progress, but is a measure that can enable the world to achieve progress in an organic way; it is a self-defense against self-destructive tendencies; it makes it possible to have universal progress at a more uniform pace. We have there the opportunity to bear a witness that demonstrates our “credibility.”


In a matter of such vital importance and urgency for the future of mankind, we Christians should take the lead. We should .show to a world that considers itself “post-Christian,” that Christian love and solidarity are still very much alive and operative in human society, even if we know that our example and witness will not always be recognized or appreciated. Thus we will prove, in a very effective way, that Christianity, far from being “the opium of the people’,” is a living force that can tackle the present situation, with courage and realism, and point out to contemporary man the path towards a solution which man, left to his own a-transcendental resources, would never be able to discover nor to find effectively a reason for utilizing here below.


It seems to me that we Christians in Europe have a special obligation to give witness in this respect. We are being called upon today to live much more simply as individuals, families, and social groups; to halt or, at least, slow down the spiral of luxurious living and social competition. Instead of feeling compelled to have many of the things our friends have, we should do away with some of the luxuries which may have become necessities in our social set but which the majority of mankind must do without. We must realize that to have enough is enough, and to have more than enough raises big questions. And we measure “enough,” not in terms of our own social set, nor in terms of any social set above us, but with our eyes on the truly poor and marginalized in our own society and in the Third World. Moreover, in the authentic Gospel order of reality, it is not a question of giving up only what is superfluous, what we do not need. If we accept the logic of the Gospel, we are bound to renounce also what we need because someone else has a greater need than ours. Don’t the 15,000 dying of hunger in Bangladesh, India, Africa and Latin America need bread more than we need whisky, champagne, or a super-abundant “first course” at table? How often we are far removed from this Gospel attitude! We have ears but do not hear, eyes but do not see!


B. Don’t Tempt the Lord

To rely on power and might, to seek always personal prestige, is basically to place one’s hope in oneself. Though He also could justifiably have done so, this second temptation was rejected outright by Christ with the words: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” For man however, the temptation remains a particularly seductive one. The unprecedented progress of modern science and technology, as well as many other branches of knowledge, seems an open invitation to deny contingency and proclaim a self-sufficient autonomy in which transcendent values have no place or meaning. The perfect society seems not only within reach but attainable by human efforts alone.


In recent years, however, this confidence has diminished somewhat in the light of the spectacular failure of so many plans and projects, and of the hard evidence that several major world problems are becoming more acute rather than less. Some are beginning to acknowledge not only “the ambiguous nature of progress,” but also the fact that it “deepens rather than solves the mystery of the heart of man; nor does it provide the complete and definitive answer to the desire which springs from his innermost being.”


The true Christian hope that we expect from the Church today neither loses confidence in face of the futility of things nor places that confidence in itself. In the words of the liturgical prayer, it proclaims clearly: “Our help is in the name of the Lord.” There is a well-known saying of St. Ignatius, one version of which reads as follows: “So trust in God as if the issue depended entirely on Him and not at all on you; but put in a total effort as if it was to be all your doing and not God’s at all.” (I have chosen here the simpler of the two versions. There is another version of this saying, perhaps even more paradoxical: See Parmananda Divarkar, Placed With Christ, pp. 82-83; and also Hugo Rahner, Ignatius: The Man and the Priest, pp. 31-33). St. Paul succinctly sums up the reason for. such a procedure: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God.”


C. Adore God Alone

This introduces us directly to the final temptation which Jesus rejected with the words: “Begone Satan, for it is written: You shall worship the Lord your God and him alone shall you serve.” Here we find the key to real Christian hope. Rooted in God alone, it underpins, guides and goes beyond all other solutions, ideological, political, social, or economic. But, as Pope Paul emphasizes, it does so in a specific manner: “Going beyond every system,” without however failing to commit himself concretely to serving his brothers, [the Christian] will assert, in the very midst of his options, the specific character of the Christian contribution for a positive transformation of society.”


The Pope then describes clearly what this specific character is: “For a Christian, progress necessarily comes up against the eschatological mystery of death. The death of Christ and his resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord help man to place his freedom, in creativity and gratitude, within the context of the truth of all progress and the only hope which does not deceive.” This is our great message to the world today: unless our hope is based on the Cross, unless it seeks a new world and a new life through the suffering and death of Christ, it is not a viable hope. Deprived of this foundation, it will be a false hope that necessarily paves the way to “hopelessness.”


Time and again in his letters St. Paul returns to this theme. “Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and his crucified.” “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”


We cannot ignore this teaching for it expresses the central paradox of our faith: namely, the apparent weakness, contradiction and defeat of the Cross which, for the Christian is his main strength and the source of his hope. Here the world breaks in on us with its objection: “This is a harsh saying, and who can hear it?” Many disciples of Jesus, as the pedants in the Athenian Areopagus said to St. Paul, jeeringly remark: “We will listen to you another time on this matter.” Thus, St. Paul realized this better than most and his life was a signal witness to the hold this truth had on him. Preacher of the Gospel, he even went so far as to rejoice that he preached “not with eloquent wisdom, lest the Cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”




The Task Ahead

A hope which comes from the Cross of Christ cannot be destroyed by anything. However bleak the prospects, however great the problems or sufferings, Christians who possess this hope will be able to cry out with St. Paul: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” And they will be able to make their own St. Paul’s great boast: “We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we life; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” Let us test this out and we will see how contemporary St. Paul is. The real issue is deeds, not merely words.


The hope of which we are the bearers is based on the humble recognition of man’s radical limitations and impotence on our lack of hope in purely human and natural means to provide a global and lasting solution to today’s problems. This does not mean, however, that we simply reject or condemn all human and natural values, culture and progress as useless; but rather that we are deeply aware of their limited and relative importance, of the need for integrating them into God’s redemptive plan, so that illumined vivified and elevated by the Spirit, they may also become for man true signs and motives of Christian hope.


The Christian, faced with the world and its problems, far from being a pessimist, is essentially an optimist; far from shunning human responsibility and effort he is the first to commit himself to the task of building a world more just and more human and never gives up in despair. In pursuing his temporal task the Christian, for the love of God and of his fellow-men works, struggles and, if need be, dies, “in hope against all hope,” knowing that while his work, struggle and life are necessary conditions for the World’s transformation and man’s liberation, that transformation and liberation will be ultimately and fully achieved only through God’s Grace: “By the grace of God I am what I am.”


This is the hope we and the Church have to offer the world of today. But first we must possess it ourselves. This requires, on our part, a deep faith and an intimate union with Christ. St. Paul was able to hope as he did precisely because as he himself so graphically put it, Christ was living within him: “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me.”


Men, today, look for the truth on which to base their hope, not in mere words or in abstract reasonings alone, but in the lives of their fellow-men; people who embody and incarnate the very truths which they profess to believe. We need today the Christian witness, not only of isolated individuals but also of whole groups and communities, which, by their lives, may point the way mankind should follow in order to regain its hope and find its salvation. I mean a witness like that of the early Christians of whom Philo wrote: “Their brotherhood surpassed all description,” or of those who caused Flavius Josephus to exclaim: “They had a wonderful community spirit.” We shall become bearers of hope only when, we not only possess the truth that saves, but, like Christ, our lives are such that show the way to that truth and inspire others to follow it.


This is the goal we too must strive towards. In a talk I gave last year in Frankfurt, I. described it as “the decision to live the faith radically.” And I said: “Europe’s history is full of examples that show that great reforms and worldwide movements have been introduced and set in motion by people who unconditionally committed themselves to the Gospel message, such as Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Charles de Foucauld…. I am deeply convinced of one thing: without a profound personal conversion we shall not be able to answer the challenge facing us today. If, however, we succeed in tearing down the barriers within ourselves, then we shall have a new experience of God breaking through, and we shall know what it means to be a Christian today. Why should we not succeed in this? Why should this Europe of the great Christian examples no longer be able to set a new symbol of its deepest energy and power; the decision for a radical living of the faith?”


If we can measure up to this challenge, then the signs of despair I mentioned at the beginning of this talk will soon turn into signs of hope. Let us go a step further with St. Paul and say: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” Thus, then, it is precisely in insurmountable difficulties that our confident optimism is rooted. Still more, indeed, when it seems that we should give up hope because we see no solution ahead, it is then that we hear the words of St. Paul: “hope that is seen is not hope.” Authentic hope is “hope for what we do not see.” We understand, then, the wonderful truth of Pope Paul’s words: “The Christian’s hope comes primarily from the fact that he knows that the Lord is working with us in the world, continuing in his Body which is the Church—and, through the Church, in the whole of mankind—the Redemption which was accomplished on the Cross and which bursts forth in victory on the morning of the Resurrection.” This is the promise and it is ours for the taking. Have we the dedication and courage to accept it? Have we the generosity to pass it on to others? If we can truly say “yes,” and if our reply is not merely a notional assent but begins to take real shape in our lives each day, then our Church will still be the bearer of men’s hopes today, and today more than ever because “we hope for what we do not see.”




Original Source:

Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “A Beacon of Hope in a World of Dispair [sic],” pg. 227–240.

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