“Dialogue with Alumni of Jesuit Schools,” Pedro Arrupe (1979)

In August 1979, some 400 delegates of various associations representing former students of Jesuit schools in Europe met in Ghent, Belgium to explore “Christianity and the Future of Europe” in the fields of ethics, economic and social life, formation and politics. Father Arrupe, who was traveling in Latin America at the time of the meeting, sent the delegates a taped message in the form of an interview. In the following remarks, which were abridged and edited upon publication, Arrupe stresses the need of acquaintance with the documents of Vatican II and the directives of Pope John Paul II and the need for a deeper life of faith and prayer which is demonstrated in dedicated work. Some of the questions proposed to him earlier touched the problems of loyalty to the Holy Father, unbelief, ecumenism, human rights, and social communications.

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




Question: Father Arrupe, we’d like to interview you for the summit meeting of promoters of the Jesuit alumni movement. We recall your presence among us at Padova two years ago and the two memorable talks you gave there. We know that your heavy schedule precluded your coming to Ghent, but we thought we might transport your voice there, if not your presence.


My first question, Father, may seem a strange one, for it concerns a picture; namely, the picture of yourself, kneeling before Pope John Paul II to receive his blessing. People visiting the Jesuit Curia in Rome see that picture prominently displayed just after they enter the door. Many Jesuit houses have the same picture in a parlor or public place. I have even heard that you sent out individual copies to Jesuits throughout the world.


Arrupe: The picture is perhaps unusual but not the attitude it portrays nor my motives for distributing the picture. For, as you know, loyalty to the person of the Holy Father is one of the distinctive marks of the Jesuit Order. Loyalty is the “principle and foundation” of our very existence as a religious congregation. Those words are from St. Ignatius himself, and they well up from the spirit of the Spiritual Exercises.


So, the attitude of listening very carefully to the Holy Father and receiving from him, either directly or indirectly, the sense of what the Church wants—“mission” in the broad sense of the term—is at the heart of Jesuit life and apostolate.


My motive in distributing the picture widely is simple; to keep before the eyes of Jesuits throughout the world what should be our fundamental stance vis-a-vis the Holy Father, and to highlight our unconditioned readiness as apostolic body to respond to his calls and appeals.



Question: Would you care to go into any further detail on this matter, Father, keeping in mind that most of us live in a pluralistic world and that we have marry responsibilities in our family and in our work? I think we all want to do our share in building a world in which our families can live in peace and in which human dignity and personal rights are vindicated for every man, woman, and child. But the obstacles are enormous, and our strength is so little.


Arrupe: Yes, that’s right: obstacles are enormous and we may feel rather powerless. But let us not underestimate the power we do have. Remember that cynical question of Stalin, “how many battalions does the Pope have?” Stalin was thinking in terms of guns and bombs and like; admittedly, the Holy Father on that plane is nothing. But think of the meeting of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with the soldiers sent out to capture Him. His “I am he” spoken with divine strength and authority was enough by itself to make the soldiers fall back in fear.


I think the Holy Father is reminding each of us—indeed, the whole world—that there are ways of confronting the powers of darkness, those within and those outside of us. Consider his trips to Mexico and to Poland. Did he not show that by expressing publicly our belief in God we make it easier for others to believe and express that belief? In so doing, he helped the peoples of Mexico and Poland—not to mention those of other countries—counteract the conspiracy of silence about t God and His world, which has thrown a pall over so many people. In effect, he said in the market place as well as in the church, “God lives, His name is love, His desire is to save. He has designs on you and even more than you He wants you to grow, to become what you are called to be.”


So, concretely, I would say: let all of us give ourselves in creative fidelity to the God Who has given us life. Let us not be afraid to be generous with Him. Let us really take seriously what we pray every day in the “Our Father.” Let us life in such a way that others will be heartened to say “Our Father” mean it.



Question: But, Father, pardon me if I say that that is beautiful and true. But it’s somewhat up in the air. Could you be a bit more specific, keeping in mind that you are speaking to lay men and women with all of our own concerns?


Arrupe: Yes I was a bit “in the air,” I guess. So now I will descend from the air and from the broader view that being up there enables one to have. Let me ask some very concrete questions.


a) How many of our Jesuit alumni have really read and meditated on the documents of Vatican II? Excuse me if I ask such an elementary question. I do so, because one who does not take that Ecumenical Council with utmost seriousness is not “thinking with the Church” and cannot understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to effect in our times.


b) How many of our Jesuit alumni have tried to explain the teaching of Christ to those with whom they live and work when they are asked or when there is an occasion to explain? Have we, perhaps, without being aware of it, tacitly agreed that the time for Christ is Sunday—and then only an hour—and that the rest of the week is for more “serious” matters?


c) Are we trying to grow in a spirit of prayer? From the very beginning of His active life, our Lord stressed over and over again that prayer is the air of any serious spiritual life; that unless we pray we become entrapped by our own selfishness and by the desires of the world. The Lord has sown the seed. Where has it fallen—in my life? On the hard earth? By the wayside? Among thistles? On good ground?


d) Are we shocked by the fact of Christian dis-unity? Do we see it as a scandal? Are we trying to diminish it? What means have we taken to promote that unity for which Jesus prayed at the Last Supper?


e) Pope Paul VI gave a special mission to the Society to study atheism and to play an active role in work with atheists. Are we aware of the importance that this vast problem has today? In many sectors of life, God doesn’t count, He is looked on as a “useless concept” meaningless for modern man. And in our own life of every day, is God not absent in practical ways? Is there anyone among our relatives who has lost the faith? What is our reaction to such a situation?



Question: Father, let me interrupt. But you mentioned something about an “important development in the government of the Society of Jesus.” What do you refer to and how does it affect us as alumni?


Arrupe: Thank you for reminding me. The development is this. We are rediscovering that the Jesuit mission is universal, wherever the apostolic needs are greater, and we can help significant way (“magis”). This means that we have to and plan to respond to more universal needs—or more urgent, burning needs and that our structures of government must help the greater mobility and flexibility that this implies. So, we now have in most countries a provincial who looks to nation, rather than more local needs, while in Europe, Africa, East Asia, and the Americas we have more frequent meetings of national provincials to look precisely at apostolic needs that transcend national boundaries. These groups of provincials are beginning to spell out their priorities, which should be taken to heart by all Jesuits in that area.


First of all, a deep personal conversion on the part of all Jesuits and those with whom we work, including our former students. By “conversion” I mean an unflagging inner process in which we mold our attitudes to the Good News of Christ and guide our entire life by the faith we profess.


Secondly, an intensification of our service for others, under the impulse of the love and example of Christ, in Whom we are all brothers. This gift of ourselves means that we reject the spirit of selfishness and acquisitiveness (consumerism) that lies at the root of the evils of society.


Thirdly, implementing human rights, both individual and social, especially that first of all rights—the right to life. We want to join forces with those who fight in defense of the rights of the family, the victim of modern materialism and hedonism, and to do our share to eliminate the injustice and oppression that are the scourge of the world.


Fourthly, strengthening the apostolate of education in all its forms: — from literacy campaigns to the university and research.


Fifthly, the better and more extended use of means of social communication. For they are the means par excellence for proclaiming the Gospel, forming public opinion, and defending the human rights about which I was speaking.


In sixth place, the continuing education and formation of all of us, Jesuits included. We would like in a special way to help our former students to whose basic formation we contributed according to the norms of the times. We are all morally obliged to carry on our formation, building on foundations laid down in our school days, and thus responding to the orientations and spirit of the Second Vatican Council, in points that at times are of great importance. In this way we are able to respond personally, professionally, socially, and apostolically to the rightful expectations the Church has of us.


In seventh place, helping our alumni to become more and more aware of the social and political issues that we face, and in this way to reach ever larger sectors of society … It is you, graduates of our institutions working in concert with other members of the laity, who bear the responsibility of bringing Christian thought to grips with the issues of justice, peace and welfare which affect modern life. Should you not be at your post or remain indifferent, you may well be failing deplorably, and responsibility for that omission you cannot run away from. Neither the Church as such nor the Society of Jesus can directly enter the political arena by espousing a party line or a particular ideology. It is the laity who must make the concrete choices, and for that an adequate formation and awareness are indispensable.



Question: So, let me see now what you are implying. You say that the Society of Jesus as such such is organizing itself to decide with greater flexibility what it should be doing on a broader scale. And I think you are implying that, as former students, we should be aware of this change and ask ourselves how it affects our own organizations.


Is that the point?


Arrupe: Exactly. What is at stake here is a key concept of St. Ignatius; namely, universality. The day of compartmentalization is past. Look, St. Ignatius used to say, 450 years ago, that “the more universal the good, the more divine it is.” What was for him an intuition has today become a fact of life. Practically all of the great themes of our time—economic cultural, social, structural—are planet-wide in scale. Interdependence is now a fact of life, a fact of almost unimaginable proportions and implications.


The Society of Jesus, which was aware of some of the meaning of interdependence from its origins, must therefore loosen up its structures with a view to universality. Its members must be completely available and ready to move in order to serve with effectiveness where the need is greater, more urgent, more universal, less attended to. Structures, therefore must be very flexible.


I think that this emphasis on availability and mobility has some implications for alumni associations. The World Union should develop into a united apostolic force, compact, strong. This vision of the World Union, I know, seems to have encountered difficulties which have not yet been overcome. I suppose I have to resign myself to that fact, despite my insistence for many years on this way of seeing the World Union. I fear, however, that alumni of the future will condemn us for our myopia and lack of efficiency if we fail to vitalize the World Union. Perhaps, despite what I have tried to do, I must accept part of the responsibility. But no matter; I will not give up. I will continue to insist on universality, confident that the facts will bear out its importance and that perhaps what now seems impossible can soon be a reality. I have not given up hope.




Original Source:

Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “Dialogue with Former Jesuit Students,” pg. 103–109.

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