Jesuits on the southern frontier: at the service of the most vulnerable
By José Luis Vázquez, SJ - Nador, Morocco
[From “Jesuits 2021 - The Society of Jesus in the world”]
The Moroccan city of Nador is located on the Mediterranean coast, just a few kilometres from the Spanish populace of Melilla. This strategic position makes Nador a key point on the migratory routes between West Africa and the European Union. Many young men and women from countries including Mali, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Guinea or Senegal arrive here in the hope of continuing their journey northwards to carve out a better future. However, the difficulties they encounter often mean that their stay in Nador is longer than expected.
For several years, a few Jesuits have lived and
worked on this stretch of the “southern frontier” (between North Africa and
Southern Europe), today deemed the most dangerous in the world. The Jesuit
community, part of the Spanish Province and linked to our house in Almeria, is
formed at present of three people; two Spaniards and a Frenchman who belongs to
the Near East Province, was born in Morocco, and has a long history of
missionary work in the Maghreb.
Our work serving the migrant families occurs within the framework of the Diocese of Tangier’s Delegation for Migrants, created in 2011 by the previous Bishop, Santiago Agrelo. In the Nador region, the Delegation has a great team of 20, including us. We work alongside women and men, Muslims and Christians, Africans and Europeans.
Those arriving here on the migrant route have
survived tough experiences after leaving behind their countries and families:
they have been stripped of even basic belongings. Moreover, all too often,
their human dignity has been wounded. In the Delegation, we pull together to
try to accompany them and alleviate their suffering, by offering them material
assistance, medical and psychological help, information and advice... but above
all, we listen to them, approaching with great respect this “sacred territory,”
in other words, the broken lives of so many men and women.
At the same time, in this encounter, we welcome the great gift of discovering - or at least intuiting - the human values migrants bring with them, values which no one can rob them of, and which have so much to offer Western society: hope, creativity, resilience, solidarity, a sense of community... as well as, quite often, a profound trust in God. They feel they are in his hands.
Our resources, fruit of the generosity of our benefactors and supporters, are, however, very limited given the gravity of the situation. In addition, we are aware of the need to invest our efforts into preventative action, in order to try and break the cycle of this humanitarian disaster. This is why, since last year, some members of the Delegation have been running a pilot project to raise awareness in migrants’ countries of origin, specifically in Guinea-Conakry. We are currently evaluating the possibility of a similar intervention in Senegal.
In addition to our work with migrants, the Jesuits have been entrusted with two other main tasks in Nador. We manage the Centro Baraka (Baraka Centre), a professional vocational college offering training courses for electricians, in cookery, I.T. and languages to young men and women, with the aim of helping them integrate into society and find work. The centre also offers workshops to foster the advancement of women (including in literacy, sewing and baking). This is the most direct service we offer our host country and especially its most vulnerable citizens. All the pupils and teachers are Moroccan.
Our other daily task is to offer pastoral
support, through the parish of St James, to the small group of Catholics in
Nador, most of whom belong to two congregations of female religious: Hijas de la Caridad (the Daughters of
Charity) and the Esclavas de la
Inmaculada Niña (Handmaids of Mary, the Immaculate Child). Christians are
insignificant number wise in Morocco, but we are significant as a presence,
being a church with a strong sense of communion. We give witness to our faith
not with words but through our welcome, service and works of mercy; all this
being done within a context of respect and dialogue with our Muslim brothers
The richness of humanity evident on the southern frontier is stirring in the hearts of some believers a desire to engage with our ministry. Consequently, in partnership with CVX-Spain and our Jesuit companions in Almeria, we are offering the possibility of an experience here (akin to doing the Spiritual Exercises “on the road” either for individuals or small groups). This is designed to help participants find God in this challenging situation from a perspective of Ignatian contemplation. The journey here includes several stages: leaving behind the “plastic sea” of Almeria’s greenhouses to cross the Mediterranean, travel through Melilla and cross the border to reach Nador. The life of migrants, in all its hardship, is an appealing “theological place” which, if we allow ourselves to be touched by it, can transform us, generating a dynamic of conversion that may change our attitudes, making us authentic agents of societal transformation.
Migrants, young people, Exercises... If we stop
to contemplate all this within the lens of an Ignatian examen, we see that the presence of the Jesuits and our daily
commitment in Nador offers a place of integration, in the heart of life, for
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