Ecumenism ‘for the ever greater glory of God’

November 8, 2007 in News

Fr Arrupe’s Dublin visit, August 1971.In August 1971, Fr Arrupe visited Dublin for the occasion of the Fourth International Congress of Jesuit Ecumenists. Michael Hurley SJ, founder and director of the Irish School of Ecumenics, sees the contribution of the Superior General as the highlight of the event.

The highlights of Fr Arrupe’s visit in 1971 were, for me at least, 1) the opening dinner in his honour, 2) his address to the International Congress of Jesuit Ecumenists, 3) the Mass at which he presided, and 4) last but far from least, the luncheon given in his honour by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Alan Buchanan.

The menu for the opening dinner, a copy of which I find in my papers, reminds us that entertainment throughout was provided by two Jesuit scholastics – Michael McGuckian, who sang ‘Mary of Dungloe’ and ’Buachaill ón Eirne’, and Bruce Bradley, who sang a selection of operatic excerpts entitled ‘Ecumaniac Conclusions’ – and by a Jesuit Brother, John Maguire, who played a medley of airs on his twin whistle. The highlight of the evening, however, was the speech made by Erskine Childers, then Tanaiste – Deputy-Prime Minister – later to be President of Ireland, in reply to the Toast of ‘Our Guests’.

It was August 1971 and the situation in Northern Ireland was extremely tense – the dawn raids of the 9th and the subsequent violence and deaths were on everybody’s minds. Against this background the Tanaiste made a very moving speech, an appeal for tolerance and forgiveness which included a reference to his own father shaking hands with the firing squad before his execution during the civil war in 1922.

Fr Arrupe’s address to the Congress which had brought together some 120 Jesuits, two of whom are now Cardinals (Avery Dulles and Roberto Tucci) from some thirty countries, including the Cameroons, Pakistan and Taiwan, was a radical statement which unfortunately got largely forgotten when GC32 and Faith and Justice came later to dominate Jesuit life and work. Fr Arrupe regretted that “past and present [ecumenical] achievements have depended chiefly on individual initiative”, recommended “very seriously” that Jesuit formation have an ecumenical dimension, stated boldly that ‘the ecumenical movement is meant to move’ and ended up with the exhortation: “let us strengthen each other by word and example for this task of ecumenizing all our formation, prayer life, institutions and all our ministries for the ever greater glory of God”.

John Coventry, of the British Province who was President of the Congress, and myself, as Secretary, tried to play our part in the drafting of this address, but communication was difficult and it was necessary to have translations of the speech ready well in advance. So the final text was a Roman composition, the work largely of Roberto Tucci, then editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, with some Coventry and Hurley ideas and phraseology hidden here and there.

The impression created by the Mass at which Fr Arrupe presided is best conveyed by quoting one of the letters of appreciation and thanks received after the Congress. Fr Bill Osterle of Scranton University in the US wrote as follows:

In our concelebrated Mass with Fr General, the variety of languages used for the readings and the very Canon prayer itself (French, Cameroon, Chinese, Greek, Irish, English, German, Slavonic, Latin) focused for me the unity we as a Society have…Never before have I perceived such concern and support for my own personal apostolic commitments both to Christian Unity and to the goals of the Society of Jesus. ( Irish Province News October 1971 p. 138)

The success of this and the other Congress liturgies was largely due to the work of Irish scholastic, Michael Sheil, who was then studying in Paris, having been ordained the previous summer.

Alan Buchanan, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin in 1971, being himself from Northern Ireland and having just been bishop of the cross-border diocese of Clogher, was fully aware of the tense political and religious situation obtaining that August. It was therefore immensely courageous and magnanimous of him to host a Church of Ireland reception for Fr Arrupe and an international group of those Jesuits who were the particular bêtes noires of Ian Paisley and the many other vociferous opponents of ecumenism everywhere. We were given a warm welcome and a sumptuous luncheon at the Church of Ireland Divinity Hostel. To quote a phrase of Owen Chadwick with reference to another ecumenical event, “it was an act of splendid imprudence”.

After Fr Arrupe’s departure the work of the Congress continued with stimulating discussions of papers by Avery Dulles, Piet Fransen,Wilhelm de Vries, Paul-Emile Langevin and Patrick O’Connell. But the highlight had been Father Arrupe’s encouraging presence and address.