JRS – 40 years of accompaniment… and still so necessary

14 November marks the 40th anniversary of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). In a sense, it is a shame for humanity that the work of the Society of Jesus for this group of marginalised people is still so necessary today. When Father Pedro Arrupe, then Superior General of the Jesuits, launched this initiative, first for refugees from Vietnam and shortly afterwards more broadly from South-East Asia, he could not have imagined that the number of refugees would grow steadily over the following decades.

Yet this is the harsh reality of our world. JRS is active in more than 50 countries and accompanies not only refugees but also so many people forcibly displaced within their own countries. It has been doing so for 40 years. We cannot celebrate such an anniversary “joyfully”, but we can give thanks for the commitment of so many men and women who, together with Jesuits, have given of themselves to alleviate the plight of refugees and, above all, to open up prospects for their future.

On 14 November 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, it is above all in a virtual manner that the anniversary is being marked. Father Arrupe’s legacy was highlighted for beneficiaries, staff, volunteers and partners of the JRS mission around the world. An online event took place in the afternoon, Rome time, followed by a Eucharist, both a thanksgiving and intercessory prayer.

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Jesuit Refugee Service
 

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During his address to the entire JRS family, Father General stressed how much this Jesuit work was first and foremost based on the compassion felt by Father Arrupe. This compassion strongly shaped all the activities of JRS, which does not want to be an NGO among others, but primarily wishes to accompany the refugees, to walk with them towards the future: it is an organisation that aims to be human, spiritual and also pedagogical. For Father Sosa, in reflecting on the history and commitment of JRS, the recent encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti, comes to mind. The Holy Father invites us to enter into a world that allows for a renewal of encounters and dialogue, especially with the forgotten, refugees and migrants.

At the end of his address, Father Sosa announced that from this year onwards, the 14th of November will be considered “JRS Day” in the worldwide Society of Jesus. This is a way of highlighting the Society of Jesus’ ongoing response to the needs of forcibly displaced people. In concrete terms, he also announced that the Society, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary, is making a contribution of one million dollars to support the mission of accompaniment, service and advocacy in favour of the refugees.

The Eucharist for this anniversary included, as a first reading, an excerpt from a letter of Fr. Pedro Arrupe of 14 November 1980. After explaining how he had been personally touched by the fate of the “boat people” he had met, and how he had shared with the Major Superiors of the Society the urgency for the Society to get involved in the face of this challenge, Fr. Arrupe wrote, “I consider (this work) as a new modern apostolate for the Society as a whole, of great importance today and in the future, and of much spiritual benefit also to the Society.”

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Fr. Pedro Arrupe

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Father General’s homily was linked to this historical reminder. Also with St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which invites us to be agents of light and to keep watch (1 Thess 5:1-6), and with the Gospel chosen for the occasion, that of St. Matthew, chapter 25:14-30, which stresses the importance of sharing one's talents and resources with others rather than jealously guarding them for oneself. Father Sosa said how JRS has been for 40 years a major expression of the Society of Jesus’ commitment to love and accompany the poor and excluded, in a specifically Ignatian way.

Jesuits and their partners in mission are called to offer a bold response to crises that arise in a specific moment without losing sight of the long term. This involves supporting prospects for a better future for all, especially those suffering from poverty or violence. Audacity is necessary, as it was for the characters in the parable who had to commit themselves and take risks in order for their talents to bear fruit. In the current context, JRS priorities, namely reconciliation, psychosocial support, education and livelihoods, embody the mission of the Society of Jesus as expressed by recent General Congregations.

Concluding his homily, Father General acknowledged that “The 40th anniversary of JRS is bittersweet: If the reign of God were fully present, there would be no need for JRS! Yet the urgency of the Gospel message compels us to continue our work.”

Read Pope Francis’ message to JRS for the 40th anniversary

40 years of accompaniment

Jesuit Refugee Service
 

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles public relations.

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