"Today, 1 in every 100 forcibly displaced person in the world is directly supported or served by JRS"
June 6, 2019 — In his letter of May 24, Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ, shared important changes that will allow the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) to continue and to deepen its response to the challenge that refugees face worldwide.
The purpose of these changes is “to renew JRS’ identity as a ministry of the Society, as it carries out its shared mission of reconciliation and justice, and dedicates itself anew to the accompaniment, service, and defence of refugees around the world.” All members of the Society and its partners are asked to participate in the implementation of JRS' vision of inclusion and integration of migrants, and to engage in the organization's challenges of renewed governance and involvement in the Ignatian heritage.
In response to the unprecedented number of forcibly displaced people around the globe, JRS has had to grow exponentially. Today, 1 in every 100 forcibly displaced person in the world is directly supported or served by JRS. This is why JRS must strive to be even more effective in its programs and advocacy, in addition to deepening its mission and identity as a work of the Society of Jesus. Hence, several important points were defined by the JRS and approved by Fr. Sosa.
- Over the next four years, the priority areas will be the following: the promotion of reconciliation and social cohesion; the delivery of quality formal and informal education; innovative livelihood programs that lead to self-reliance and sustainability; and effective advocacy for the rights of migrants.
- It has been proposed to change JRS’ organizational structure and operating procedures, focusing on the development of mission-driven, strong country offices that will strengthen local capacity and encourage subsidiarity.
- JRS is initiating a consultation with the wider Society and its partners in an effort to fully implement its vision of a world where refugees may attain protection, have access to opportunity, and be full participants in the social, political, and economic spheres where they find themselves. This consultation also deals with issues of governance and Ignatian identity.
A more and more troubling situation for refugees
As participants at the Maison Bellarmin’s event entitled Le parrainage d’hier à aujourd’hui: 40 ans de solidarité au Québec stated a few days ago, the number of refugees in the world is constantly increasing and their situation is worsening.
Last year the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that 68.5 million people had been forced from their homes, the highest amount ever recorded. 25.4 million of these are migrants who fled their own land looking for safety and protection across international borders. Most refugees come from the world’s least developed countries, and the vast majority of them are hosted by nearby nations. More and more, they find themselves in protracted situations of displacement: 13.4 million refugees are now in situations of exile that have lasted from 5 to 37 years.
Unfortunately, certain governments from richer northern countries have established policies aimed at keeping migrants at bay. These policies are being more and more copied by developing nations.
However, as Fr. Sosa states, JRS has never been alone in its fight against injustice. The wider Jesuit family, including parishes, retreat houses, schools, social centres and universities, have been places of welcome, social action, and research for advocacy, often in partnership with JRS. Many Jesuit communities have extended their own welcome to individual refugees and families. Jesuit communities and provinces have also been generous in their financial contribution for JRS and other projects serving forcibly displaced people. In Canada, for example, several Catholic organizations support them, such as Le Pont in Montreal or the Office for Refugees in Toronto.
The Pope’s call and the Universal Apostolic Preferences
These changes implemented at JRS are inspired by Pope Francis’ words and confirmed by the new Universal Apostolic Preferences.
In these challenging times, the prophetic leadership of Pope Francis has driven JRS in its mission to accompany, serve, and advocate with and for refugees. Francis has called on the international community to have a shared response to refugees and migrants, which can be articulated in four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote, and to integrate. He has insisted that what is needed is a fundamental conversion, a change in attitude, “to overcome indifference and to counter fears.”
The Universal Apostolic Preferences, approved by the Pope, reinforce the significance of “paying attention to migrants, displaced persons, refugees, victims of war and human trafficking.”
It must be noted that service to refugees has been at the heart of the Society for nearly 40 years. In 1980, Fr. Arrupe founded JRS. In 2008, the 35th General Congregation reaffirmed the work with migrants, refugees, displaced persons within their own countries and victims of human trafficking as an apostolic priority of the Society. In 2016, the GC asked the Society to respond to Christ’s call who is moving us once again to a ministry of justice and peace in the service of the poor and the excluded. The new Universal Apostolic Preferences thus confirm the importance of this apostolate.