Love that restores dignity

Gonçalo Fonseca, SJ - JRS-Syria, Damascus
[From “Jesuits 2022 - The Society of Jesus in the world”]

A personal account of taking part in a JRS mission in a war-torn nation.

Syria has been, for me, a mysterious source of discoveries of veiled places of humanity and a genuine school of heart. I saw life and death, love and hate, hope and despair, faith and fear dwell side by side in almost every instant of my days in Syria.

I have been guided through human landscapes that I never even knew that exist and my own geography of comprehension of human being found new paths and transformed everlastingly my journey in life. Remembering the book of Hans Urs von Balthasar Seeing the form, on theological aesthetics, I believe this transformation comes from being transported by Love, the concrete love of God in the form of Christ. The Love that is patient and kind, and rejoices with the truth. It always protects, trusts and hopes (St Paul, 1 Cor 13).

Love that protects could be one way to interpret the JRS mission of which I have had the privilege to be part. The statement says that JRS exists to “accompany, serve, and advocate” the cause of refugees and other forcibly displaced people, that they may heal, learn, and determine their own future. It plays an unimaginable role in restoring dignity.


Dignity is the quality of being worthy, honored, or esteemed. The first article of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” from the Declaration of the United Nations in 1948, accentuates precisely that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. The Syrian war, as all the wars, and its devastating consequences ripped people’s dignity, if not their lives. When someone is dehumanized (i.e. deprived of human rights like liberty, freedom of expression, security, shelter, education, access to health services or basic needs) his or her dignity is negated and the person becomes a drifter searching for a place to belong. The strive for peace and hope is also a pursue to recover dignity.

To restore dignity is a deed that entails a joint participation. It needs someone who, at least, recognizes the humanity of the other, so that his or her dignity is stated. JRS, by fulfilling its mission, humanizes those who are accompanied, served, and represented; and by humanizing the most vulnerable and deprived of their essential human rights, JRS participates in the restoration of their dignity while contributing for a more peaceful and just society.

This insight regarding the restoration of dignity was strengthened by a specific experience, a life experience. In Syria, I did not feel safe all the time, but I always felt protected. Strange contradiction! In fact, the context has not been safe, and some situations I went through were particularly threatening; however, those with whom I worked – or I am friends with – always toke on a starring role to protect me, grounded for sure on respect, but also out of love. Love and protection are interchangeable in their definitions. In my limited capacities I also perceived myself protecting – loving – them.


A very distressing episode led me to new understandings about restoring dignity. In a routine military check point, me and a couple of friends were stopped. Nothing unusual, but that day, for whatever reason, the military decided to extend the interrogations and requests of documentation in a way to humiliate. They searched, inspected and exposed, with the arrogance of “power.” I saw my friends, impassive, being ripped from their dignity and dehumanized. They were resigned to their fate. Me, terrorized, was getting ready for the same. I did not even think to protest. I knew that the consequences could be, at least, very unpleasant.

When “my turn” arrived, my friends realized that I would experiment the same humiliation they have just gone through. They rose from their dehumanization, regained their voice that was wiped off, stood between me and the military and protected me, despite the possible consequences of that rebelliousness. They, who have stoically accepted their fate, couldn’t accept that I would have a similar experience. Somehow, we all were let go unscathed.

A deep silence covered us. Shame, fear, relieve, incomprehension. Hopelessness wildly inhabited that silence that was broken sometime later by a nervous ice-breaking joke. I also experimented, though, a sense of beauty which I understood only later on.


With some “distance” but still coated by the emotions, I grasped the mysterious beauty from that event; by protecting me, out of love, they restored their own dignity that was ripped off just moments before; by safeguarding me from being dehumanized they upheld their humanity illuminating the dark paths of injustice. They became more dignified and more human.

I understood that Love also restores or renovates one’s own dignity. I understood anew how Christ, loving the humankind on the cross, not only repaired the humanity corrupted by sin, but elevated His humanity to the fullness of fulfillment. I understood anew that the course of my own humanity – and vocation – assumed new scales as, not only did I recognized myself all over again as a loved one, but I also learned new measures of love.

Share this Post:
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.

Related Posts: