In 1981, Arrupe called a meeting in Bangkok to develop JRS Asia Pacific. He realized the need for emergency refugee care in the region and appointed a local staff of Jesuits and laypeople to do the job.
From an emergency response to crisis, the work of JRS expanded towards a longer-term commitment. The worldwide sympathy for refugees, which in 1979 had allowed so many to resettle, had diminished. Refugees were expected to wait in camps much longer, and were more likely to be rejected. They faced a correspondingly more unwelcoming reception in countries of first asylum. Thus, the long-term needs of refugees received increasing attention—education, support of culture and the ability to participate in the decisions which shaped their lives besides the needs of food, medicine and shelter.
Almost 40 years ago, Fr Pedro Arrupe, then Superior General of the Society of Jesus established Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in 1980. His last act before he was incapacitated by a stroke, was to visit Thailand and encourage the Jesuits in their ministry with refugees. On Sept. 7, 1981, while returning to Rome from a trip to the Philippines and Thailand, he suffered the massive stroke from which he would never fully recover. He resigned his office at the 33rd General Congregation (1983). Because of the effects of the stroke, he could not speak directly to his brother Jesuits, but his final address was read to them in his presence. It was received with thundering applause and a torrent of tears:
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.”