Pedro Arrupe issued the following letter to the whole of the Society of Jesus in March 1977. Rutilio Grande was assassinated earlier that month, becoming the fifth Jesuit martyred in less than a year. These five men were “of average human gifts, leading obscure lives, more or less unrecognized, dwelling in small villages and totally dedicated to the daily service of the poor and suffering.” And to answer why the Lord chose them for martyrdom, Arrupe replies “it is precisely because of their evangelical life.” Theirs were lives “following the lines of action that the 32nd General Congregation marked out for the Society: the service of faith and the promotion of justice.” In lifting out these men from “obscurity for the whole world to see” and crowning them “with martyrdom,” God had shown “us His preferences and to be pointing out the values and the kind of witness that he holds in great esteem.”
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To the whole Society
Dear Brothers in Christ:
The recent murder of Fr. Rutilio Grande, in the Central American republic of El Salvador seems to be a clear sign from the Lord. Father Grande is the fifth victim that God has chosen from our ranks in the past few months. The other victims were Fr. Joao Bosco Burnier, murdered on October 11, 1976 in Brazil, and Frs. Martin Thomas and Christopher Shepherd-Smith and Brother John Conway, murdered on February 6 in Rhodesia. The Lord speaks to the Society through the pouring out of this blood, as through the blood of Abel, as through the blood of Christ on the Cross.
Mingled with our deep grief at seeing beloved brothers snatched from our midst is a great happiness, unmistakable proof that through these deaths Jesus Christ has a message for the Society. What is that message? Let us try to fathom it.
Who are the victims that God has chosen? The five were men of average human gifts, leading obscure lives, more or less unrecognized, dwelling in small villages and totally dedicated to the daily service of the poor and suffering. These were sons of the Society who never took part in broad national controversies and who never made headlines in the news media. Their style of life was simple, austere, evangelical: it was a life that used them up slowly, day-by-day, in the service of “the little ones.”
Why did the Lord choose them? I believe it is precisely because of their evangelical life, one that is clearly apostolic life and in which the image of a true “companion of Jesus” is never blurred. Their attitudes, their activities, their motives are not colored by ideological or partisan ambiguities. They are men who had learned to put up with misunderstanding and, in a spirit of nonviolence, endeavored to follow the directives of the Church and the Society, and above all, to imitate the Good Shepherd. There can be no slightest doubt about the unaffected simplicity of their lives.
They were, therefore, unquestionably following the lines of action that the 32nd General Congregation marked out for the Society: the service of faith and the promotion of justice. The Lord seems once again to be showing us His preferences and to be pointing out the values and the kind of witness that he holds in great esteem. He has lifted out of obscurity for the whole world to see and crowned with martyrdom these “faithful servants” of His, men who were faithful to Him in little and humdrum affairs, men who served Him in the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, men who loved Him in the poor by their works and sincerity.
The Lord seems to be showing us, then, what kind of martyr is found in today’s world. And the Church seems to believe that too, for in a spontaneous reaction it has not hesitated to label their deaths a “martyrdom.” Pope Paul VI himself used that word about the victims of Rhodesia; the bishops of Brazil applied it to Father Burnier; and finally, the bishops, the clergy and the people of El Salvador interpreted Father Rutilio Grande’s death that way when they thanked God “for having given us the first Salvadorian martyr.”
These are Jesuits of the mold that the world and the Church need today. Men driven by the love of God to serve their brethren without distinction of class or race. Men who are able to identify themselves with those who suffer, who live with them, and even give up their own lives on their behalf. Strong men who know how to defend human rights in the gospel spirit even to the sacrifice of life itself, if that be necessary.
If we follow Christ, persecution will come, as we have discovered through experience in so many countries when we try to serve faith and promote justice. Not all of us will witness to Christ by shedding our life’s blood in sacrifice, but all of us should unreservedly offer Him our whole lives. The essential thing, the Jesuit thing, is always to confess Him before men. As I said to the General Congregation in 1974: “The things that counts is that really we resolve to follow Christ even without knowing what sacrifice this following of Him will certainly demand of us.”
To be able to carry out this vocation of ours the Society today must count on men and on communities imbued with the “mind of Christ,” who serve Christ without limit or reservation, who joyfully live lives of evangelical simplicity and continuing self-sacrifice, thus offering to modern man an ideal for living and to the generous youth of our day a model and way of life. This is the real secret of success in our mission in the Church. This will be the source of new vocations: “the blood of martyrs is the seed of vocations.” This is the Jesuit that Saint Ignatius, that the Pope, and above all that the Eternal King wishes today to find in each one of us.
Yours always in the Lord,
Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
Superior General of the Society of Jesus
on the feast of St Joseph
March 19, 1977
Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “Our Recent Five Third World Martyrs,” pg. 205–208.