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A letter to Pedro Arrupe

Michael McGirr  |  30 October 2019

Dear Pedro Arrupe,

I am writing to you early to avoid the rush. It is great to hear that you are on the road to being made a saint, terrific news for those of us looking for inspirational figures to support our commitment to faith and justice. But saints get a lot of requests for prayers. So I am hoping to get mine in first.

You were surely one of the most invigorating leaders in the church over the last hundred years. In 1945, at the age of 44 you were working as a missionary priest in Hiroshima, Japan, having joined the Jesuits from medical school when you were 20. On the morning of August 6, you were present when a new and deadly weapon, the atomic bomb, was detonated over the city. Your description of that experience, written with both urgency and compassion, still has the power to make the hairs stand up on the back of any reader. In the aftermath, you opened your community to the injured and resorted to your medical expertise in order to help as many as possible. You wrote: ‘assuredly, it was in such moments of tragedy that we felt God most near to us. It is at such moments one feels in need of supernatural assistance.’

Later, you became the leader of the Jesuits throughout the world and helped that organisation find a fresh sense of God’s purpose. You challenged the Jesuits to work for the poor but always tied that commitment to a mystical sense of God’s presence in the world.

You wrote about visiting a poor favela, an urban slum, in Latin America. A man insisted that you visit his ‘half-falling shack’ because he wanted to show you the beauty of the sunset from his poor dwelling. ‘I have nothing else to give you’, said the man. You were moved by the way that man saw the world, by his sense of gratitude.

This story, and many like it, helped you articulate a wonderful sense of the Eucharist. In 1976, you said ‘we cannot properly receive the Bread of Life without sharing bread for life with those in want … the table of the Lord which we sit around is, today, the table of the world.’ You also said ‘if there is hunger anywhere in the world, then our celebration of the Eucharist is somehow incomplete everywhere in the world …. [Christ] comes to us, not alone, but with the poor, the oppressed, the starving of the earth. Through him they are looking to us for help, for justice, for love expressed in action.’ People have described your spirituality as ‘a mysticism of open eyes’.

Towards the end of your time as superior general of the Jesuits, you were afflicted by a stroke, living with its consequences from 1981 until your death in 1991. For you, this was a decade of growth, another chance to surrender to the mystery of God’s love. In your final address to your brothers, you said something that should resonate through all our lives:

‘More than ever, I now find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth. And this is still the one thing I want. But now there is a difference: the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in his hands.’

My request to you is simple. I am asking you to pray that we all might better accept that we are in the hands of God and that we might understand that the table of the Lord is, indeed, the table of the whole world.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Michael McGirr

Michael McGirr is Dean of Faith and Mission at St Kevin’s College in Melbourne, and author of a number of books including the recently-released Books that Saved My Life.(Text Publishing).


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