[8Sept] Putting a human face to our cooperation

In 1991, the International Volunteering Padre Arrupe (VOLPA) was born, inspire by his personality and his inter culture life experience. Since that date, more than 600 people have had a long term volunteering experience in impoverished country's local communities.

During 2010, the VOLPA program mobilized 27 volunteers from Entreculturas, that developed their volunteering inside the teams of our local partners and organizations we work with, mainly in Latin America.




Within the International Volunteer Year tenth anniversary (IVY+10) and the International Volunteering Padre Arrupe twentieth anniversary, this is another occasion to acknowledge the commitment and dedication of the volunteers. In words of Pedro Miguel Lamet "Arrupe's transforming drive continues motivating today committed people". To them all, our most sincere congratulations and all our gratitude.





Pedro Miguel Lamet *


In a world radicalized by parties and flags, those men who have built bridges between ideologies, cultures and inequalities never die. Such is the case of Gandhi, Luther King, Romero or Pedro Arrupe. Pedro Arrupe died on February 5th, 20 years ago. When I visited him in Rome, his watch had stopped as it had done so on August 6th, 1945 at 8.15 in the morning. He then realized that the B29 crossing the clear sky of the Japanese city was not the usual American courier plane that flew in daily. He went up to the hill near his novitiate house in Nagatsuka where he saw that the pika-don ("splendor" and "outburst" in Japanese) of the first atomic bomb in history, had made Hiroshima a desert of smoke and ashes. He went down to the chapel and asked God what could he do in front of a dead watch in a no-time space that became an eternity to him.

He thought that so much energy developed for an evil cause could be transformed into a force to create goodness. So he transformed his small religious house into an improvised hospital to help during day and night human shadows, victims of the fire and radio activity. Using a shaving blade as a scalpel, he extracted thousands of fragments incrusted in the skin of the Japanese in unforgettable days in which he hardly slept one or two hours daily. But he was unaware to what extent his illumination would change his life and the life of thousands of people.


When I visited him in Rome during the summer of 1983, that brilliant young man born in Bilbao on November 14th, 1907, favourite Medicine student of the later President of the Republic, professor Negrín, who won the honor´s prize over the future Nobel Prize Severo Ochoa and who, after becoming a Jesuit and missionary in Japan, would be elected the 28th successor of St. Ignatius of Loyola, seemed humanly annulled, this time not by a bomb but by the same institution whom he had loved and served passionately.

I have clearly in my mind the four white walls of that infirmary prison of the Jesuit General Curia, two steps away from the Vatican, much harder than the one he suffered in Yamaguchi in his missionary days during the Second World War, when as a foreigner, he was falsely accused of being a spy. Immersed in prayer, with a smile on his lips, that man who had spoken seven languages could hardly express himself in Spanish. But he opened his heart to me when I was authorized to interrogate him during twenty days to prepare his biography. His cerebral ictus hardly allowed him to remember names, but with a clear head, peacefully and without the least glint of criticism to the Pope who had banished him, we ran over his life, step by step.

On the Jesuit option for justice : "I felt the beginning of something new, I felt it deep inside me, I had no doubts whatsoever. A new era was starting, a new order of procedures. How beautiful!" I told him that the option for justice was very present in many of his letters and conferences. That the Vatican Council was already talking about dialogue with the world. " Yes in those days some Council fathers said, how silly, but I felt free, I knew it belonged to God. Now they all agree".

On his way to govern the Jesuits, respecting the person´s freedom "I can only manage people as I know, I am not authoritarian. I explained and it was up to them to decide". At times, Arrupe was overtaken by the low psychological state produced by his illness, with half words he said "I´m no longer any good, poor man". "I tried to tell each person the truth, very frankly, as I saw it in the eyes of God. I see everything clear. I see a new world. I sensed that a light guided me. We have suffered a lot".

During his intense activity, he had a magnetic, outgoing and cheerful personality, getting along very well with journalists and even the bodyguards when he was threatened by the Red Brigades. He renewed religious life. He was prophetically ahead of the recent solidarity movements, in his challenged option for justice as a consequence of the Christian faith. He tended a bridge between the culture of East and West and he defended women´s promotion within the church, the commitment with the poor in catholic education, Europe´s need to overcome its selfishness and commit to the Third World and that the youth, in whom he believed in his natural optimism, be aware of the moment´s temptation: superficiality and directing his last worries to the refugees and drug addicts.

We know that Pope John Paul II, after visiting the General three times during his illness said" I leave edified" referring also to the obedience with which the Jesuits accepted his dispositions. We know that in the history of the Church, incomprehension between men of God, even saints, has often occurred.

The fact that an agnostic like his colleague Severo Ochoa asked him his benediction out of respect or that a group of protestants went to his bedside when he could no longer talk and lit candles and sung are only signs of the popular admiration that his personality still arouses years later. "He was tall and clear just like the Fuji mountain", one of his Tokyo ex novices told me. The fact that hundreds of centres today carry Pedro Arrupe´s name and the interest his institutions rise should be enough to unblock the official silence on Father Arrupe. That he was a Marxist or an agitator is simply a deformation of his enemies "Marxist me? he said to me laughing, "I just say that today people die of hunger or from excess of cholesterol". In case of doubt, it has been discovered in his spiritual diary that he had even made a special vote to choose in his life the most perfect and in consonance with the Gospel.

Some cannot understand why the canonization process has not started. But what can be a better glory in this world than to have a hundred colleagues who, following his footsteps, have given their lives in the Third World for a faith that demanded a commitment with justice?

Meanwhile, what is important for the Church and society is the strength of his legacy in a moment of ideological intoxication, disenchantment and fear, even among believers who with a great amount of orthodoxy, say they represent the Jesus of the Gospels. This message is not so much about his dialogue with the world, his respect for pluralism, his defense of justice and human rights as a non negotiable step of faith´s predication, but about his firm conviction that the human being is well done and destined to joy and hope.

This is what the hundreds of youth that make up the Father Arrupe Volunteer Programme(VOLPA) have glimpsed. A curious current phenomenon. The same year of his death a network of volunteers, promoted by the Jesuits, was created with the mission of creating a culture based on justice and solidarity. These young people are only asked if they are ready to fight together in the borers of hunger and development in Africa and Latin America during a year or two in order to participate of their culture and give them a hand. Surprisingly, most of them are non believers; they represent the greatest social sector of those young people of our society, not necessarily religious but ready for a continuous and accompanied formation and reflection. Open to a personal transformation that may challenge their motivations and attitudes in a world that is increasingly demanding of a commitment with concrete realities.

Twenty years after his death, Father Arrupe stimulates a generation in NGOs such as Entreculturas or Alboan (País Vasco) and Volpa Tarraco (Cataluña) ready to face inequalities and so different to others who neither study or work. Why is this so? When I wrote the biography of that universal Basque, I never dreamt that his transforming impulse would still continue so strongly. Today, I still receive letters from people who have experimented the "Arrupe effect" after an immersion in his life.

I remember that close to Don Pedro, one felt like being near a friend. This is why maybe his last words are a programme for a bored world that does not wake up from the short-sightedness of consuming or an absurd protectionism against the globalization of goods and hope:" We should be transformation agents in our society, working actively to change unfair structures".

And he added: "We need to have the firm determination not only not to participate in a profit of a clearly unfair origin, but even to start diminishing the participation in benefits of a social and economic structure unfairly organized in favour of the most powerful, while the production costs fall heavily on the shoulders of the less favoured".

His thinking breaks borders and particularities. "I feel universal. Our role is to work for all and this is why I try to have the biggest possible heart and to understand all". Of this Europe who looks to herself, he used to say" I could not think about its development independently from the less developed countries". In this context he wrote "Faith should keep up its continuous dialogue with all cultures. Faith and culture complement each other; faith purifies and enriches culture and culture enriches and purifies faith". In those days, many did not understand this. Today in the middle of an economic crisis, his altar and his glory are made up of those who gave their lives for these ideas or give their time to change it.

*Pedro Miguel Lamet is a Jesuit, writer, journalist and biographer of Pedro Arrupe.