Today we remember the decision to elect one of the most influential Jesuits of modern times as the General of the Order, Pedro de Arrupe y Gondra. Born in Bilbao, he was the fifth Spaniard and the first Basque since Ignatius to be made General. A medical student, he was to complete a doctorate in medical ethics as a Jesuit. Many consider him to be a 'refounder' of the Jesuits, in the years after Vatican II. Religious orders had been invited to return to the original inspiration of their founder, as well as adjusting their charism to modern times. This invitation lead to Arrupe's decision to call for another General Congregation (GC32) only five years after the one that had elected him. The fruits of this general congregation still profoundly affect modern Jesuit life.
Arrupe had a vast experience of the world, partly because a republican government had sent the Jesuits in Spain into exile (again!), so his formation took place in Belgium, Gemany, Holland and the United States. However most important was his time in Japan, where he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour had brought America into the Second World War. That Christmas hearing people gathering outside his cell, he was expecting to be executed and was amazed when he realised it was Christians gathering to sing him carols, at great danger to themselves. However a bigger impact was made, when he was appointed novice master in Hiroshima, and thus witnessed the Atomic Bomb and was the first to co-ordinate a medical response in the dreadful aftermath.
In a prophetic moment, and responding to the Vietnamese Crisis, he founded the Jesuit Refugee Service, thus anticipating those waves of migration in a globalised world, which where a response to political and economic instability and inequality. His vision of the church and the modern world however was not shared by other leaders of the Church. He was criticised for failing to stem the tide of priests leaving amidst the turmoil after Vatican II. After suffering a debilitating stroke in 1981 and becoming the first General who had to resign rather than die in office, Fr Arrupe witnessed an unprecedented intervention into the governance of the Society as Fr Dezza SJ was placed by the Pope as a personal delegate and Interim general, thus bypassing Arrupes choice of vicar general. A purge was expected, however Dezza kept the curial officials and superiors as they were. He called GC33 two years later to elect an new general, at the opening of which, the Spanish Provincial read out this statement on behalf of Arrupe who was in a wheelchair .
How I wish I were in better condition for this meeting with you. More than ever, I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth. But now there is a difference: The initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know oneself totally in His hands."
He was to die 10 years after his stroke and was to receive visits from many well wishers, including John Paul II.