Vatican City, 14 November 2015 (VIS) – This morning in the Clementine Hall Pope Francis received 150 members of the Jesuit Refugee Service, the international organisation founded 35 years ago by Fr. Pedro Arrupe and currently active in more than 45 nations, whose mission is to accompany, assist and defend the rights of refugees and displaced persons.
Father Arrupe, the Pope recalled during the audience, initiated the service after witnessing the plight of the South-Vietnamese boat people, exposed to pirate attacks and storms in the South China Sea. The then Superior of the Jesuits, who had lived through the atomic bomb explosion at Hiroshima, realised the scope of the tragic exodus of refugees and saw it as a challenge the Jesuits could not ignore if they were to remain faithful to their vocation. He wanted the Jesuit Refugee Service “to meet both the human and the spiritual needs of refugees, not only their immediate need of food and shelter, but also their need to see their human dignity respected, to be listened to and comforted”.
The Holy Father referred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' estimate that there are almost sixty million refugees worldwide, the highest number since the Second World War, and noted that the Jesuit Refugee Service is active in areas of greatest need, in conflict and post-conflict zones, such as Syria, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they accept men and women of different religious beliefs who share their mission.
“The Jesuit Refugee Service works to offer hope and prospects to refugees, mainly through the educational services you provide, which reach large numbers of people and is of particular importance”, said Francis, emphasising that “offering an education is about much more than dispensing concepts. It is something which provides refugees with the wherewithal to progress beyond survival, to keep alive the flame of hope, to believe in the future and to make plans. To give a child a place in school is the finest gift you can give. All your projects have this ultimate aim: to help refugees to grow in self-confidence, to realise their highest inherent potential and to be able to defend their rights as individuals and communities”.
“For children forced to emigrate, schools are places of freedom. In the classroom, they are cared for and protected by their teachers. Sadly, we know that even schools are not spared from attacks instigated by those who sow violence. Yet they are places of sharing, together with children of other cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds; places which follow a set pace and a reassuring discipline, places in which children can once more feel 'normal' and where parents can be happy to send them”.
However, “all too many refugee children and young people do not receive a quality education. Access to education is limited, especially for girls and in the case of secondary schools”. For this reason, during the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Service has set the goal of helping another 100,000 young refugees to receive schooling, via a “Global Education” initiative entitled “Mercy in Motion”, with the collaboration of a large group of supporters and benefactors.
Francis invited those present, as they persevere in their work of providing education for refugees, to “think of the Holy Family, Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and the Child Jesus, who fled to Egypt to escape violence and to find refuge among strangers”, and to Jesus' words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”.
“And I cannot end this meeting … without presenting to you an icon: that 'swan song' of Fr. Arrupe, precisely in a centre for refugees. He asked us to pray, not to forget prayer. It was he himself who, with this advice and with his presence there, in that centre for refugees in Asia, did not know that he was bidding farewell: they were his last words, his final gesture. It was his final legacy to the Society. Upon arriving in Rome, he was afflicted by a stroke that caused him to suffer for many years. May this image accompany you: the image of a good man, not only the creator of this service, but also one to whom God gave the joy of giving his last farewell in a centre for refugees”.