At the 33rd General Congregation, Fr. Paolo Dezza offered the following remarks in accepting the resignation of Pedro Arrupe as superior general. Arrupe had suffered a debilitating stroke in 1981. Dezza extends, on behalf of Jesuits everywhere, “an official and public expression of the Society’s esteem, affection, and gratitude” to Arrupe. Arrupe was the first to resign as superior general. He died in 1991.
For more from the 33rd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.
September 3, 1983
First of all, I want to welcome all of you and to thank those who have accepted our invitation to join us for this truly extraordinary session of the General Congregation. Yesterday with great joy the General Congregation began its work with the Mass of the Holy Spirit concelebrated with the Holy Father who so kindly wanted to be with us and to meet each delegate personally. This morning, however, with no joy we gathered to accomplish another task, that of accepting the request of our beloved and revered Father General concerning his resignation from office. It was the intention of the General Congregation, which we now fulfill, to hold this special official session in order to offer Father General the homage of our profound gratitude for and recognition of all that he has accomplished during his eighteen years as General. In taking this action the Congregation is sure that it is expressing the desires and sentiments of Jesuits everywhere and in particular that it is responding to the request of many postulates from Province Congregations which asked that, on the occasion of this resignation from office, there be an official and public expression of the Society’s esteem, affection, and gratitude to Father Arrupe. For this reason we have wished to lend greater solemnity to this function by inviting others to be present, first of all the members of the General Curia who throughout these years have been firsthand witnesses of the untiring activity of Father General, then representatives of the Roman houses that constitute a part of the Society which lives and works close to Father General and, by their international character, represent the whole Society in a special way.
There are so many reasons for gratitude toward Father General. Gratitude in the first place for the example that he has always given us of religious virtue. He is a man of God, of prayer and of mortification—a model of those virtues which are proper to every Jesuit and which ought to characterize the General as he is described by St. Ignatius in Part Eight of the Constitutions. Another motive for thanks is the fact that in these eighteen years he has dedicated himself totally to his office without letting anything else occupy and scatter his energies. He has been animated by an ardent love for the Society that he has been able to inspire in others. And it is this total dedication to his office, this intense love for the Society, that prompted him to visit every part of the world in order to become personally acquainted with individual Jesuits and apostolates, in order to see concrete situations and difficulties, in order to encourage, to comfort, to inspire. Parenthetically, I would like to mention the letter which the fathers of the Vice-Province of Slovakia sent to me and from which I read only a sentence yesterday. There is another passage of the letter in which they dwell at length on the visit that Father General paid them some fifteen years ago and that has left in them such a deep impression and a stimulus for generous loyalty to their vocation in spite of the difficult conditions in which they live. And it was precisely at the end of one of these long and tiring journeys on which he spent himself without reserve for the Society that he was struck by the illness from which he is still suffering.
But it is not only the prodigious amount of work he has done that is the reason for our gratitude, but also the spirit that has given life to all this labor. Father Arrupe’s election as General coincided more or less with the close of the Second Vatican Council and his term of office covered the difficult postconciliar period. During this time the Church undertook the task of self-renewal and updating in all sectors of its corporate life, one of the most important of which is religious life. Already before the Council, in the immediate postwar period, there was a widespread perception of the need of such updating. I remember the well-attended special Congress of 1950, called by the Holy See to promote appropriate modernization of religious life. I recall the various papal documents that appeared in the years following the Council and the decree, Perfectae Caritatis. Father General was in full agreement with the line indicated by the Council, precisely in the challenging effort to reconcile what is enduring, and therefore unchangeable, in the charism of the Society with the demands of the current situation in the life of the Church and of the world. This is a difficult and delicate task and it is no wonder that in so many areas there was a difference of opinion. Nor is it surprising that many concrete directives were criticized, especially when false interpretations or exaggerated applications of some directives led to abuses that Father General himself often deplored. But no one has ever criticized—or could ever criticize—the generous dedication that animated his work of adapting the life and apostolate of the Society to the demands of today’s world.
The very request to resign his office, which Father General had already offered three years ago, is a confirmation of his commitment to renewal. Those who were in the 31st General Congregation will remember the lively debate about the life term of the General. On one side were the reasons set down in the Constitutions in favor of a generalate for life. On the other, were the difficulties arising from contemporary developments in the modern world that make a life term of office much more burdensome. These considerations have led the Church to set limits on the office of bishops, who are invited to resign at a certain age. The question naturally arose about what we should do.
And from that long and profound discussion came the solution of retaining the generalate for life but providing the possibility of resignation when age, health, or special circumstances indicate that it would be suitable for the General to leave office. It was a solution which appeared to be the best one theoretically, but I remember someone asking: But can it ever be put into practice? Father General wanted to demonstrate that this solution could indeed be put into practice, and he courageously wanted to set the example. While still in good health despite his advanced years, he took the decision to offer his resignation. Even if Father Arrupe’s desire could not be satisfied at the time—and then the painful stroke came which brought on his present infirmity—along with his example of generous detachment, he wanted also to give us, as he continues to give us, his example of inner resignation. This truly edifying example has merited the praise of the Holy Father in his allocution of February of last year to the Provincials and again yesterday in his homily and has won the admiration and respect of the whole Society. Not only will Father General continue to help the Society through his prayer, his example and his sufferings, but also, even in his present state of enforced inactivity—I might almost say of enforced silence—he continues to speak, to act, to animate, to encourage. He does this through his writings, his books, and other publications which make his thoughts live in our midst, not only in the Society, but also outside the Society where especially some of his letters have been particularly effective for good.
It gives me pleasure to recall here a personal episode. On the day after the death of Pope Paul VI in 1978, his private secretary, wishing to give me some memento of the Pope, presented me with the Holy Father’s copy of the Ordo Paenitentiae which served as a reminder of our weekly meetings for confession. After the Council, new liturgical formulas were approved for the various sacraments and a new Ordo Paenitentiae was published in Latin. It was permitted to use this after publication, even though not obligatory, until the date set by each Episcopal Conference after the appearance of translations in various languages. Now, I was accustomed to use the Latin form of absolution, so one Saturday evening just after the Latin text of the Ordo Paenitentiae appeared, I pronounced the formula of absolution according to the new form. The Pope looked at me; he had not expected this. On the following Saturday he showed up for confession with his own copy of the new Ordo Paenitentiae so that he could read for himself the act of contrition which was not obligatory but suggested in the new Ordo. And from that day until the last confession a few days before his death, he always came with this Ordo Paenitentiae. It was a precious memorial for me especially when, on leafing through the volume, I found so many interesting letters and notes of the Holy Father. And there I found a copy of Father General’s letter on the integration of the spiritual life and the apostolate, which Father General had published just about a year previously. The Pope had obviously kept it at hand. He liked it and put it in this book which was one he also used for prayer and meditation, showing this way that he had read and reflected and meditated on that letter of Father Arrupe, so giving us the consolation of knowing the influence of the wise words of Father Arrupe that were helpful even to the Pope himself.
On this occasion of our public expression of gratitude and homage we wanted to offer something that Father General could have close to hand and that would be a perpetual reminder of this occasion and of the filial affection of all those present. But after some discreet enquiries as to what might please Father General, I discovered that anything he was given would very likely be passed on within a few days as a gift to someone else. However, there was one thing which would really please him: an autographed message from the Holy Father that he could keep as a constant reminder. The Holy Father granted our request and just yesterday signed this photograph, endorsing in his own hand the words he used when speaking of Father General in his homily yesterday morning, so that Father General can preserve this personal message from the Pope which confirms the close union and affection between them.
Tomorrow we shall conclude this act of gratitude and homage to Father General in the cathedral near the Chapel of La Storta, so dear to Father General because of the well known vision of St. Ignatius, which Father General had restored with the help of the whole Society. There we shall concelebrate Mass with him, praying that the Lord will reward him abundantly for all the good he has accomplished on our behalf and that He will console and support him in his painful illness.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, “Address of Gratitude and Homage of Fr. Paolo Dezza to Fr. Pedro Arrupe,” pg. 473–476.