(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is set to celebrate an important moment for the Jesuit Refugee Service at it marks 35 years of commitment to serve, accompany and advocate for refugees across the globe.
Saturday, 14 November 2015, refugees, as well as staff and friends of JRS will attend a private audience in the Vatican with the Pope.
Pope Francis, who has repeatedly urged all men and women of goodwill to welcome refugees, will greet those present as well as formally recognize and pledge support for the JRS Global Education Initiative and “Mercy in Motion” Campaign which is JRS’ response to the Holy Year of Mercy to be inaugurated on 8 December.
JRS International Director, Fr Thomas Smolich SJ and JRS National Director USA Armando Borja spoke to Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni about their joy for the Papal Audience, about the JRS mission and about and the aims of the “Mercy in Motion” Campaign:
Fr Smolich recalls that 35 years ago Fr Pedro Arrupe responded to the crisis of the Vietnamese boat people by saying Jesuits and our colleagues, collaborators and friends “can walk with folks to hear their stories, to walk with them wherever that may take them and to accompany them”.
He says JRS has grown from that very simple beginning and today JRS programmes are found in 10 regions and in 45 countries responding globally to the needs of people who have been forcibly displaced and are on the move.
“Obviously the Papal audience is an opportunity for us is to listen to what the Holy Father has to say to a group which walks with refugees” he says.
Remarking on the fact that Pope Francis obviously cares for refugees as witnessed by his visit to Lampedusa – his very first journey outside Rome – and that his heart is with people on the margins.
Fr Smolich says as JRS waits to hear what the Pope will have to say to the JRS family, they are hoping he supports the educational campaign that we want to begin as part of our 35th anniversary.
He also says that just a few weeks from the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy, “our response is to serve refugees especially through education and we are hoping that the Pope takes us up on that and encourages us to go deeper and wider with it”.
Fr Smolich goes on to explain what the key message of the “Mercy in Motion” campaign is and how as the Pope says mercy is not an abstract idea but a concrete reality.
He says that we must mobilise ourselves for those who are in motion and this Jubilee Year gives is time to put our Mercy in Motion.
JRS deeply believes that education contributes to peacebuilding and fosters the development of more resilient and cohesive societies. It gives refugees the tools not only to contribute to their new communities, but to rebuild their old ones. That it is the role of each one of us to ensure those who have lost their homes do not lose their hope.
So, Smolich says, providing quality education to refugees is challenging and it’s a big agenda, and JRS is asking people to make their response to the Year of Mercy to support us in doing this: “Doing education isn’t free; it demands resources of personnel, of thinking, of finance”.
In a world in which nearly 60 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes “We hope we can make a difference in the lives of a huge number of people if we take this education initiative as our response to the Year of Mercy seriously” he says.
Armando Borja adds that it is also important to realise that the JRS education initiative is two-fold:
“In Europe and in the United States education is educating the mind and also the heart” he says.
He says JRS will be celebrating the lives and the resilience of refugees also by engaging in a campaign for hospitality which the US Bishops’ Conference has already launched as part of Pope Francis’ campaign to welcome the stranger.
“What we hope to do mobilise our networks bringing a transformative message of hospitality into schools, to the public, to people of all faiths so we may create a culture of welcome” he says.
Borja says it is important that people learn to see people who are coming in not
“just as a problem but as an opportunity” and learn to discover our mutual strengths
and to be able to build a communal future.
For more information on the work of JRS click here
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