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Hospitality fosters reconciliation  

Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicolás tours the Automeca camp for people displaced by the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, April 29, 2010. (Christian Fuchs - Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Friday, January 14, 2011
A message to Jesuit Refugee Service on its 30th Anniversary from Jesuit Superior General Adolfo Nicolas, S.J.

I am very happy to greet the Jesuit Refugee Service on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of its foundation by Fr. Pedro Arrupe. In the years since 1980, JRS has received many blessings, for which I join all those who have been part of the JRS family in thanking the Lord. Together, we thank God for the growth of JRS, which, from its modest beginnings, now finds itself engaged in more than 50 countries. We also are grateful for the fruitfulness of its work: JRS has touched thousands of lives, and has been the Lord’s instrument in bringing the fuller life of the Gospel to those who have lost their homes and hope. 

Moreover, I am sure that the many collaborators and Jesuits who have spent time with JRS will join me in thanking the Lord for the transformation that our service has produced in us. We wanted to help, but in the end, we realize that those whom we served and with whom we served taught us so much more and changed us deeply. Finally, together we thank the Lord because the history of the past thirty years is not simply a record of accomplishments, but perhaps even more deeply, a tapestry of many enduring friendships and partnerships in the mission.

I am also glad to know that this 30th anniversary celebration has not just been a time to look back, but also to look forward. It is not my role to discern for you, but allow me to share some reflections for the journey of JRS in the next thirty years.

As you are aware, the world of displaced persons that JRS desires to serve is rapidly changing. Since the Vietnamese boat people first inspired Fr. Arrupe’s response of compassion on behalf of the Society, many new forms of displacement, many new experiences of vulnerability and suffering have emerged. You know these better than I: the victims of natural and environmental disasters; those who lose their lands and homes because of the world’s hunger for minerals and resources; the increasing number of urban refugees, just to name a few. How can JRS promote both the spirit and the structures of Ignatian freedom to respond with agility to these new calls upon our compassion?

In our service to refugees, I ask how JRS can better build participatory communities. The long tradition of depending on the help of others might hinder those we serve from taking responsibility for their own needs. To help people do the right thing, without depending on someone from outside, who can do it better and faster, will need much detachment and patience; but, in the long run, it will be more effective. We want to respond to needs, certainly. But how can we build something more lasting, something which strengthens the humanity of those for whom we work? How can we help them experience and move towards reconciliation, the healing of deep wounds often connected with violent displacement, so that communities of peace can emerge?

I also wonder how JRS can advocate and promote more actively the Gospel value of hospitality in today’s world of closed borders and increased hostility to strangers. Hospitality is that deeply human and Christian value that recognizes the claim that someone has, not because he or she is a member of my family or my community or my race or my faith, but simply because he or she is a human being who deserves welcome and respect. It is the virtue of the good Samaritan, who saw in the man by the roadside, not a member of another race, but a brother in need. It is a value that you in JRS know is being eroded in today’s world, in culture and in policies, because so many are fearful of "the other." Many are closing their borders and their hearts, in fear or resentment, to those who are different. JRS, in serving refugees, is Gospel hospitality in action; but, perhaps, we can ask how we may, creatively, effectively and positively, influence the closed and unwelcoming values of the cultures in which we work.

As JRS looks back in gratitude, as it reflects on the lessons learned over the last three decades, and tries to listen to the new appeals of the Spirit of God speaking in our time, I offer my thanks, encouragement and prayers. I pray that you may continue the good work; that you may respond with freedom and creativity to new challenges; that you build communities of hospitality that foster reconciliation among all those you serve as a sign of the Kingdom in our world.

Rome,  November  14, 2010
Adolfo Nicolás, S.J. Superior General