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Praying with Refugees: Accompanying people in detention
Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Fr Richard Sotelo S.J. greet detainees while celebrating Mass with them at the Service Processing Center for detained undocumented immigrants in El Paso, Texas. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Washington, D.C.) April 1, 2014 — In the United States and many other countries, Jesuit Refugee Service actively works to assist refugees and asylum seekers in detention. The use of detention to discourage, control and punish asylum seekers has increased worldwide during the past decade. Each year in the U.S., some 15,000 people seeking asylum are held in detention.

JRS aspires to be hospitality in action. We walk alongside, accompany and offer hospitality to the most vulnerable, those "at the frontiers of humanity." While most visibly doing this in direct service to refugees in camps, we also walk alongside refugees in urban areas and alongside people in detention. 

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA chaplaincy programs provide pastoral and religious assistance to meet the needs of non-citizens detained in three U.S. federal detention centers; and we’ve created a guide for chaplains and volunteers in centers around the country to use. These programs enable people of all faiths to have access to pastoral care within their faith tradition. 

In calling for an authentic culture of encounter, Pope Francis writes: "The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other … we are all human beings, children of God."

Reflections for Prayer

Jesuit Father Richard Sotelo is the Religious Services Coordinator at the Service Processing Center in El Paso, Texas. Fr. Sotelo has been the facility’s chaplain since 1999. 

"Why I stay, what (the relationship I have with) the staff, the detainees, what I bring to my ministry outside of the center, in the parishes I serve and the people I serve outside… it is I think the fundamental religious contribution of Jesuit Refugee Service to the life of the Society of Jesus, and can be summed up in one word: accompaniment.

"That's really what I do as a member of Jesuit Refugee Service … accompany people in their journey. The amazing thing about that… is that in accompanying them they accompany me; so it becomes this very mutual human relationship," Fr. Sotelo said.

"Today is a bittersweet day," Fr. Sotelo continued. ”A detainee who has been here for two and a half years is leaving, and he is not being reunited with his family but being returned to his home country. Over the last two and a half years I have walked the journey of faith with him; I think as we said goodbye today he was more consoling to me that I was to him."

Pope Francis said "A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive." In accompanying refugees, asylum seekers and detainees, we at JRS receive their grace.

Suggested Reading for Prayer

Luke 10: 29-37

He said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.

A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.

Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.

But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.

He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.

The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.'

Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?"

He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."