27 December 2017
Fr Smolich SJ (right) with Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, the Superior General of the Society of Jesuits, in Rome this past December. (Isabelle Shively/Jesuit Refugee Service)
The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.
Mahatma Gandhi would not give our society high marks for its treatment of forcibly displaced people this year. But in the midst of xenophobia and closing borders, there is hope.
In a February audience, Pope Francis emphasised four verbs – to welcome, to protect, to promote, and to integrate migrants and refugees. His focus on these action verbs in the first person--I and we--is a call for everyone to see themselves and others, despite differences, as part of ‘we’. We must welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees. JRS did just that this year.
From Brussels to Bangkok, from Addis Ababa to Amman, our message has been one of welcome to those looking for safety and a new life. Through their I Get You campaign, JRS Europe explored how to build a culture of encounter and welcome our migrant brothers and sisters throughout the region.
JRS continued to focus on education in 2017, seeing it as the best way to protect young children and give them hope for a future. We increased the quality schooling and number of education courses offered in Chad, Afghanistan and in other JRS project locations, and we expanded our teacher training programs in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
To promote forcibly displaced people means giving them the chance to develop skills that offer economic security. The Arrupe Training Centers in Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa do this for refugee women from all over Africa. The skills they teach include beauty and nails, computer training, and even baking French pastries – I tasted all six varieties on my visit this year, and they were great!
As the chance of repatriation for forced migrants around the world decreases, the need to integrate refugees into new communities grows more urgent. With 60% of refugees now living in cities, JRS’s psychosocial accompaniment plays a key role in helping refugees and asylum seekers living in urban contexts make new lives.
With your support, JRS will continue to put these four verbs into practice. Together, we can offer dignity and hope to our displaced sisters and brothers in 2018 and beyond.
Fr Thomas H Smolich SJ