“The Impacts of General Congregation 32,” Pedro Arrupe (1977)

Pedro Arrupe had an extended interview with the Roman paper Avvenire in November 1977, nearly three years after Pope Paul VI told the delegates of the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus that their order was “at the vanguard of that interior renewal which the Church is facing in this secularized world.” The following interview contains Arrupe’s reflections on the impacts of that congregation—the good, the bad, and the incomplete. The text below was translated by Jerome Aixala, S.J., and appeared in a publication by Jesuit Sources.

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




Question: Padre Arrupe, what risks are attached to this position of “frontier” traced out for the Jesuits by Paul VI?


Arrupe: The stimulating words of the Pope are at the same time a cause of satisfaction and a spur to greater commitment. They carry a great responsibility for the Society. An enterprise of this nature certainly implies problems and dangers. The General Congregation gave the highest priority to the service of the faith and promotion of justice. But work in either of these fields offers particular risks.


Within the Society, along with a great majority of Jesuits who take well-balanced positions, coexist two extreme attitudes. On the one hand there is the immobilism of those who adhere to traditional forms of work and prayer, unable to open themselves to this world of change and in fermentation, in which Pope Paul sees the proper field of action of the Jesuits. On the other hand, there is a brand of activism, irresponsible and adventurous. As a result, we have men who generously devote their lives in the interests of others, but without that indispensable balance which flows from the clear sense of mission as Jesuits.


We have to avoid both an excessive horizontalism and an exaggerated verticalism. Recently I wrote a letter on this problem to all the members of the Society, in which I made some suggestions with a view to correcting excesses of any type. I ask each Jesuit and each community of Jesuits to pray earnestly and reflect how they may best attain an effective integration of their apostolic activities with their interior and spiritual life. A realization and continual renewal of this integration is today of vital importance, particularly if we take into account the new apostolic initiatives which Jesuits should be prepared to undertake.



Question: In May 1975, when Cardinal Villot returned to you the final documents of the General Congregation, he said that “some circumstances had prevented the Congregation from achieving all that His Holiness had expected from this important event.” This may have been why the press presented Paul VI as wielding “an iron hand” in the matter of the fourth vow. What do you think of all this at present?


Arrupe: Not all human enterprises are crowned with success. Some, indeed, may be qualified as utter failures. As every deliberative assembly, the General Congregation was confronted with a great number of matters it had to deal with. Think of the more than a thousand “postulates” sent by Jesuits from all parts of the world. All of us became more aware of the gravity of the event we were going to live through, when at the beginning of the Congregation, Pope Paul VI decided to reformulate in an authoritative manner the role of the Society in the Church of today and indicated the many points that required study, reflection and decision.


After three months of work, the Congregation assigned to a small group the task of proceeding to a general revision of the topics dealt with to date. It became then apparent that some points had not been studied as yet or needed a more profound treatment. The Congregation was of opinion that the fundamental work had already been concluded; an opinion with which I too was in agreement. Though God save us, if we thought we could close the Congregation believing we had resolved all the problems! Undoubtedly, there still exist problems in the Society, as I believe they exist in the Church after Vatican II.


The debate on the extension of the fourth vow of special obedience to the Roman Pontiff to all the members of the Society became one of the major features. But, surely, this was only one, though a very important one, of the problems before the delegates, as the Pope had already pointed out in his address of December 3, 1974. I have the impression that two things influenced in the exaggerated presentation of this subject in the press. One was the lack of concrete decisions during many weeks, while the Commissions were very busy preparing the texts that were to be submitted to the vote in the closing days. The other reason was the desire of publicizing the history of the debate in dramatic terms: “strong confrontation,”  “iron hand,” etc.


Frankly, within the Congregation, there never was a doubt about the final result of the so-called “conflict.” All the members were fully conscious that, in any case, the last word on the subject belonged to Paul VI.


I admit that we could perhaps have acted better; but certainly all of us tried to do the best we could. If we failed in attaining some objectives, the reason must be sought in our limitations, which we acknowledge in all humility. However, spurred precisely by the observations of Cardinal Villot, we feel ourselves more committed to achieve in the “post-congregation”—in the measure which was not possible during the Congregation itself—that “global result” which the Holy Father expected of us.


Side by side of the observations contained in the letter of the Secretary of State, I would like to recall also the flattering vision which the Holy Father had of the Society’s mission. Though I must recognize that we must still work undauntedly to reach the heights of that ideal image.



Question: What point has at this moment bun reached in the implementation of the decisions of the 32nd General Congregation in the 103 countries where Jesuits live and work?


Arrupe: A notable progress is registered almost everywhere, thanks to the individual and communitarian prayer, discussion and reflection, and gradual and frequent steps in decision making. The provincial superiors have made sure of competent leadership. From Rome we have tried to guarantee the maximum backing possible. However, the most essential factor is to be sought I think in the personal commitment at the grassroots. Which can be explained by the intense participation of groups and individuals that had characterized the preparation of this Congregation—an unprecedented preparation in the Society’s history. At the moment the progress consists chiefly in the assimilation of the new directives of the Congregation. The concepts of “conscientization,” “community,” “evaluation,” “discernment,” “solidarity,” “promotion of justice as an integral part of the service of the faith,” “ongoing formation,” etc., must first be grasped and assimilated before they can be applied to concrete situations. Anyway, in these concepts and their effective verification I see an immense potential to make the Society a living instrument responding to the needs of the Church today.


Briefly, I should say that we are just beginning to apply and implement the Congregation, no more than that. There is a long way to go, particularly in what regards the evolution of our apostolic activities. Yet, there are many pointers in the horizon that bespeak of a positive reaction to the Congregation.



Question: The Congregation has stressed the need of a more profound identification with the poor and oppressed. Has there been an increase in the number of Jesuits who have a direct experience of what it means to work with them and for them?


Arrupe: Even before the General Congregation there were, of course many cases of Jesuits who had opted in favor of the poor, who had decided to walk “humbly and patiently” with them. What the Congregation has achieved has been to make us more profoundly aware of the needs and apostolic opportunities of this field, and to convince us that solidarity with the poor cannot be something proper to some Jesuits only.


In several provinces serious attempts have already been made in opting from among the more traditional ministries, in order to free some men for the apostolate among the poor. Programs of this type are numerous in Asia, in Africa and in Latin America, but they also exist in Europe and North America and more industrialized countries.


The “Reductions” of Paraguay in the 17th century are a proof that this is not a new field of activity for the Society. The novelty consists in the high priority given to this commitment and the number of men affected, as often traditional institutions have been transformed in works and services for the poor. The living conditions of Jesuits dedicated to them are impressive—you can’t speak of individual comfort or private rooms, but of plain huts, with very simple and even insufficient food.


I am thinking, for example, of the program “Fey Alegria” in Latin America, that provides for the education of more than 100,000 poor children; or of the more than 50,000 youths in Spain, who receive virtually free training in our professional schools. I am thinking also—and this is just a case of the many I could give—of a Jesuit in Seoul who, with the permission of his superior and of the archbishop, Cardinal Kim, has moved to a tiny room in one of the poorest slums of the Korean capital. He works together with the poor, and every night his humble dwelling is transformed into a chapel where assemble a growing number of the poor to participate in the Eucharistic liturgy.


I could finally mention the recent decision of one of our great schools in India, which has undertaken a radical revision of its criteria for admission, so that at present their new students are recruited exclusively from among the very poor.



Question: In the decree about the Society’s mission today it is said that “it is not possible to work for the promotion of justice without paying a price for it.” Has this happened already? Where? And what was the price paid?


Arrupe: There are several places in which the Jesuits have learned that their option for justice carries with it an increasingly higher price. We have men who, after many years of service in Paraguay, have been expelled from the country; some have been arrested when they were working in the fields and placed unceremoniously in the frontier, without even being given the possibility of collecting their coat and shoes. In Brazil, Father Burnier has been shot by a policeman in the police station, where he had gone to plead for the human rights of two women of a neighboring parish, who had been tortured after arrest.


I fear that in the future we may have to pay similar prices not only in these and other Latin American countries, where Jesuits fight for the service of the faith and the promotion of justice. Many are also the members of the Society who have known for a long time, and still suffer today, persecution for the sake of faith and justice in China, in Eastern Europe and in some regions of south-east Asia.


But this experience is nothing new at all for Jesuits. In the history of the Society one can find many examples of oppression of this kind and even more bloody persecutions. Anyway the line of attack seems now to be more clearly defined and we are persecuted from both sides, right and left. In India, a priest has been jailed for protesting against compulsory sterilization. In Mozambique we have been deprived of all our possessions. Some years ago we were expelled from Burma and Iraq, where we had built a university, a high school and a center of oriental studies. Since July last, no foreign Jesuit has been able to remain in Vietnam. In recent days we had to lament the shooting of three Jesuits in St Paul’s Mission in Rhodesia.


We are losing not a few of our greatest benefactors because in our schools we teach to their sons the social principles of the Gospel. We are accused of being radical leftists, when what we simply do is to quote the “Populorum Progressio,” the “Octogesima Adveniens,” and the “Mater et Magistra.”



Question: Another delicate topic of the Congregation has been the political commitment. Have Jesuits a task to perform in this field?


Arrupe: The General Congregation has underscored the need of proper information on political, socio-economic and cultural problems of the society in which Jesuits live and operate. This is part of their duty of being conscious of the problems they have to face, and in the context of their service of the faith and their efforts to promote justice are inserted. For the rest, a Jesuit has the specific rights of any citizen.


Following the guidelines indicated by Vatican Two and the Synod of Bishops, the Congregation had acknowledged that concrete circumstances may arise in which political action may go beyond the mere criticism of the ethical type and the expression of the vote as a citizen.


However, standing as a candidate for a public office must be always considered as an exceptional case. First of all, the Jesuit must know what the local bishop or the Episcopal Conference have determined regarding the assumption of public offices by priests. Secondly, he must discuss the whole problem with his community and superiors. I myself have issued very concrete instructions to provincials regarding this matter. Yet, given the diversity of situations in which Jesuits operate in different countries, it is not possible to descend to small details or set a common policy for every time and place.


In this, as in other fields, a Jesuit must be always fully conscious of his obligations as a religious and a priest. We may not identify ourselves with any party or ideology.



Question: The General Congregation has recommended the “inculturation” of the faith and Christian life in Africa, Asia and Latin America. What has been done in this field? How can one conciliate this process with the preoccupation manifested in this regard by the Pope at the closing of the 1974 Synod?


Arrupe: Already at the time of the Congregation it was clearly seen that, although the decree on Inculturation was one of the shortest texts, its implications for the future of the Society and of any Jesuit were probably as important as those of the most lengthy documents. And from day to day we are gradually discovering how true that observation was.


In India which at present, as far as the number of Jesuits is concerned, comes second among the twelve regional divisions of the Society, a commission has been appointed to make an in-depth investigation regarding what “inculturation” can and must mean in the life-style of the Jesuits in that huge country, in the academic and spiritual formation of new members, and in their various forms of apostolate.


Four months ago a meeting was held at Kinshasa, in which the theme of “inculturation” dominated everybody’s thoughts from the very start. In Latin America, teams of Jesuits are studying the anthropology and history of some Indian tribes, as a base for a deeper “inculturation.”


Probably more interesting is the growing conviction among Jesuits in the older countries that “inculturation” represents an urgent challenge there. I am thinking of the Jesuits living and working in various parts of Eastern Europe, or of the countries traditionally Christian, though now very much secularized, of Western Europe or North America, and who cannot prescind in their apostolate of the “subcultures” of the students and workers, of the emigrants, the drug addicts, the negroes and others.


“Inculturation” is a problem of all, not only of those who in middle age decide to move into a foreign country and culture. The Pope was right in inviting us to maintain a balance in this process. The purpose of “inculturation” consists in converting human and religious values into a reality. Yet caution is required lest other equally important values be lost. The value of “inculturation” is a real challenge to an international and multinational body as the Society of Jesus.



Question: What is the impact produced by the decree on poverty in the life of the Society, whose apostolate was often in times past identified with the rich and powerful?


Arrupe: The main result of the decree on poverty has been that it has forced us to take notice of the economic reality of the world in which we live, to listen to the clamor rising from the dispossessed in this last quarter of the 20th century. In our efforts to do what St Ignatius did in his time, we must specify a particular line of action that may safeguard our honesty and keep us open to the confrontation of the dangers deriving from the growing use of material goods never resting in the security afforded by current accounts and other economic supports.


This applies not only to individual Jesuits, but also to communities. The Congregation has strongly emphasized the principle that all we possess belongs to all as a community. This requires a greater consciousness of the solidarity among the various communities, among the eighty odd provinces of the Society, and even with the world around us.


Another result of the decree is that a more clear cut distinction has been made between what a Jesuit or group of Jesuits have for their use and sustenance on the one hand, and on the other the resources at the disposal of our apostolic institutions, which are conducted by Jesuits for the sole reason that they are instruments of our work. The decree goes beyond this distinction and invites us to submit the requirements of our apostolic undertakings to a continuous revision, in the light of our commitment to simplicity of life and an effective identification with the poor.


The idea of a life of poverty as a condition for credibility in the world of today has emerged very strongly from this Congregation. Equally unmistakable is the affirmation of the need of rejecting the mentality of the consumer society and of living a more frugal life divested of all that does not fall to the lot of the poor.



Question: One last question, Father Arrupe. You have been the Superior General of the Society for the past twelve years. Could you give us a forecast of the future of the Society of Jesus?


Arrupe: Well, I am not a prophet, but I will reply with the words of St Ignatius: “If the Lord has deigned to help us up to now, why shouldn’t he help us in the future?”




Original Source:

Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “Impact of GC 32 on the Society,” pg. 259–268.

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