A detail from Timothy P. Schmalz’s sculpture ‘Angels Unawares’ in St. Peter’s Square. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis has urged Catholics to care for people fleeing “the viruses of injustice, violence and war,” in a message marking the 40th anniversary of the Jesuit Refugee Service.
In a letter posted on the JRS website yesterday, the pope wrote that the coronavirus pandemic had shown that all human beings were “in the same boat.”
“Indeed, all too many people in today’s world are forced literally to cling to rafts and dinghies in an attempt to seek refuge from the viruses of injustice, violence and war,” the pope said in a message to JRS International Director Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J.
Pope Francis recalled that the JRS was founded in November 1980 by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Jesuit Superior General from 1965 to 1983. Arrupe was moved to act after witnessing the plight of hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees fleeing by boat following the Vietnam War.
Arrupe wrote to more than 50 Jesuit provinces asking them to help to oversee a global humanitarian response to the crisis. The JRS was founded and began to work among the Vietnamese boat people in camps in Southeast Asia.
“Fr. Arrupe translated his shock at the suffering of those fleeing their homeland in search of safety as a result of the war in Vietnam into a deeply practical concern for their physical, psychological and spiritual welfare,” the pope wrote in the letter dated 4 October.
The pope said that Arrupe’s “profoundly Christian and Ignatian desire to care for the wellbeing of all who find themselves in utter desperation” continued to guide the organization’s work today in 56 countries.
He continued: “Faced with such grave inequalities, JRS has a key role to play in raising awareness of the plight of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.”
“Yours is the vital task of extending the hand of friendship to those who are lonely, separated from their families, or even abandoned, accompanying them and giving them a voice, especially by providing them with opportunities to grow through educational and development programmes.”
“Your witness to God’s love in serving refugees and migrants, moreover, is essential for building that ‘culture of encounter’ which alone can provide the basis for authentic and enduring solidarity for the sake of our human family.”
The JRS expanded beyond Southeast Asia in the 1980s, extending to refugees and internally displaced people in Central and Latin America, southeastern Europe, and Africa. Today, the organization supports almost 680,000 individuals worldwide through 10 regional offices and its international office in Rome.
The pope concluded: “As you look to the future, I am confident that no setback or challenge, whether personal or institutional, will distract or discourage you from responding generously to this urgent call to promote the culture of closeness and encounter through your resolute advocacy of those whom you accompany each day.”