Jesuits believe that Christian faith demands a commitment to justice. This means confronting the structures of our world that perpetuate poverty and injustice. As the religious order declared at its 32nd General Congregation in 1975: “The mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.”
This mission takes many forms, including works of service, justice, dialogue, and advocacy around the world. And it is not without cost: more than 45 Jesuits have been killed for their work on behalf of the poor and marginalized since the declaration of the 32ndGeneral Congregation. Among them are six Jesuit educators who, together with their housekeeper and her daughter, were slaughtered in the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 1989, by military officers in El Salvador.
Internationally, perhaps the best-known social justice outreach of the Society of Jesus is the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). The agency began in 1980 in response to the plight of Vietnamese Boat People, who fled the country in the wake of the Vietnam War. Today, JRS works in more than 50 countries to meet the urgent needs of those who have been forcibly displaced. Educating children in refugee camps is one response to those needs.
Like all Jesuit social ministries, the refugee work is deeply rooted in Ignatian spirituality, which seeks to find God in all things. Those who pursue this calling see themselves as witnesses to the reality that God is present in human history, even in those tragic episodes when people are driven from their homes by persecution, war, famine, disaster, or economic injustice.
In the United States, the JRS/USA has ministered to the spiritual needs of detained immigrants and refugees. One outgrowth of this effort is the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a binational ministry. Inaugurated in 2009, KBI offers direct humanitarian assistance and shelter to recently deported migrants in Nogales, Mexico, while providing education, outreach, and advocacy through its work in Nogales, Arizona. KBI seeks to inform and transform local, regional and national immigration policies.
An affiliated flagship program is the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Popular among recent college graduates, the volunteers spend a year working on a variety of anti-poverty projects across the United States and in several countries abroad. The Jesuit "charism" or spiritual orientation has also inspired an emerging family of Ignatian justice organizations such as the Ignatian Solidarity Network. This network coordinates justice-related outreach and advocacy efforts among Jesuit schools, parishes, and other institutions.
In addition, Jesuit universities and high schools incorporate the justice dimension into the educational experiences of their students. There are also a number of acclaimed local initiatives led by individual Jesuits. For example, Hopeworks, an inner-city youth training and development organization in Camden, New Jersey, tackles poverty and violence by teaching skills such as Web design and connecting young people with clients and employers while offering trauma-informed psychosocial care. In Los Angeles, another Jesuit-led organization, Homeboy Industries, seeks to offer solutions to youth violence by creating startups that include baking, landscaping, and tattoo-removal businesses. These and other enterprises employ former gang members, offering them hope and alternatives to endemic violence and poverty.