JRS Belgium: Letting the light shine through

By Bruno Standaert, JRS Belgium

When I visit people in detention (and I’m talking about migrants here), I am always struck by how isolated, lonely and desperate they feel. Each person has his or her own story of flight: fleeing because of stigmatisation due to sexual orientation, fleeing to get out of prostitution, fleeing because of religious persecution, fleeing because they can no longer work their land due to drought. In spite of this, all these refugees have a big dream: to rebuild a happy future in a safe environment. Belgium is the land of milk and honey for them - until they are stopped at the airport and detained. They are deprived of their freedom and cannot share their deepest secrets with their fellow inmates. They feel depressed and cannot sleep because of fear. Only one thing is certain: going back is not an option; the temptation to commit suicide is very real.

For six years, I worked as a volunteer for JRS Belgium, visiting migrants in closed detention centres. Today, I am working at management level as president of the Board of Directors. Visiting detained migrants for JRS Belgium is a wonderful job. You get to go to the borders. You cannot solve much - the majority of refugees will be sent back - but your job is first and foremost to accompany them, to be present, to listen to their story and their deepest desires. This journey with migrants puts you in touch with vulnerable people, but you learn to discover your own vulnerability as well. Detention puts the migrants in a desperate situation. They are distraught at the injustice of being deprived of their freedom without having committed any crime.


By accompanying migrants I have learned to let go and be guided by the beauty that lies in every human being: there is a diamond in the heart of each person. I tell this to my migrants too. I tell them that they have a diamond that no one can take away from them. I tell them it is their deepest nature, and they can decide whether to show it or not. My job is to let the light in.

One of the exercises I do is to help them name the facets of their diamond: connectedness - service - joy - outrage - caring - hope - advocacy - humour - creativity... I see precious and shining stones in my encounters with migrants, and I also see migrants who start to live again: they start to dream and to help their fellow detainees, offering them comfort. They learn to pray and to review their day (using the Ignatian Examen); they learn to be fully present, and sometimes not... until they receive a letter from the refugee department informing them of the decision, which is often that they have to return to their country. This letter is like a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads during the detention period, which can last up to five months.

The farewells are therefore made with mixed feelings. Deep friendships have grown, and often they end with a lot of disappointment. Then the only words of comfort I can offer them are, “Know that you are not alone and that at the other end of the world, in Belgium, someone cares for you”.

Ignatian spirituality has taught me to be grateful, to share joy, to go to the frontiers where people are vulnerable, to be gently guided by a compass that indicates where I can find inner comfort. In this sense, JRS is above all a project of hope, and I am very grateful to be part of it.

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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 media relations.

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