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The Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ
“There is only Christ : He is everything and He is in everything.”
“Grant me, O Lord, to see everything now with new eyes,
to discern and test the spirits that help me read the signs
of the times, to relish the things that are yours and to communicate
them to others. Give me the clarity of understanding that you gave
Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ
“My way of depicting Jesus is rooted in my being a Japanese novelist. I wrote this book for the benefit of Japanese readers who have no Christian tradition of their own and who know almost nothing about Jesus...The religious mentality of the Japanese is - responsive to one who ‘suffers with us’ and ‘who allows for our weaknesses,’ but their mentality has little tolerance for any kind of transcendent being who judges humans harshly, then punishes them. In brief, the Japanese tend to seek in their gods and buddhas a warm-hearted Mother rather than a stern father. With this fact always in mind I tried not so much to depict God in the father-image that tends to characterize Christianity, but rather to depict the kind-hearted maternal aspect of God revealed to us in the personality of Jesus.”
From “A Life of Jesus” - 1973 by Shusaku Endo
Last January I received an email from Mr Mark Mongelluzzo the Director of Development at Xavier High School in New York City. It was a request for an icon of Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ, the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus (from 1965 to 1983) and the only Spanish Basque General since St Ignatius. The model Mark suggested that the school wanted, is the iconic photograph of Fr Arrupe kneeling in a Japanese prayer position. Fr Arrupe’s life is intimately tied to Japan from his arrival in 1938, then living and ministering to a 150 wounded in the horrific atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and becoming the Provincial of Japan in 1954. In 1965 he became Superior General and was much beloved. I think the main reason we all love that photo is it’s not only a picture of his prayer but also his deeply profound humility. It’s a picture that actually draws you into a prayer. And this is also the purpose of an icon. If you attempt to copy a photo exactly, you can only fail, but if you try to reinterpret it then, you might be able to bring something new to the understanding of this holy man.
At the age of 24, I was a young Jesuit Scholastic, teaching art and theology at Regis High School in Denver. I was in St Louis because Fr Arrupe was making one of his visits to the United States but I never expected to meet him personally . I stepped into an elevator in Jesuit Hall, on the campus of St Louis University, and right in front of me stood Fr Arrupe. I was so shocked, and undoubtedly it showed. I could hardly speak. He took my hand, squeezed it with a big smile, and said “It’s okay dear !” His gentleness and compassion, as well as the humorous twinkle in his eye... I can still feel today. What a great gift now, to be able to paint him and his gentle, strong, loving spirit. The moment I saw Mark’s email I knew I had to honor his love of Japan and try to bring the beautiful Japanese style into the icon, as well as the impression of Jesus that Shusaku Endo gives us in his “Life of Jesus.” There are three orbs in this icon; for the Blessed Trinity. First the halo designating his holiness, then the Moon which in Catholic symbolism is always Mary (the reflected light of her Son Jesus) and finally, the circular symbol on his heart, the Holy Name of Jesus. The Greek letters in the colored rectangular shapes, say “Holy (Pedro) Peter.”
While painting (writing) this icon I was thinking of all the students passing by this image and hoping they will stop just for a moment to connect with the incredible saintly man who once was asked by a journalist: “Who is Christ for you ?”
“For me,” said Fr Arrupe, “Jesus Christ is everything!”
May the Most Holy Trinity, through the intercession of The Servant of God Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ, continue to bless you all !
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 August 2021