Loyola Blakefield High School students during their Junior Missioning Mass. (Cara Pavlak — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Outreach Coordinator
(Washington, D.C.) March 6, 2012 — Last month I visited Baltimore on a two-day outreach trip to meet with students at Cristo Rey High School, Loyola University Maryland, and Loyola Blakefield High School. I enjoyed the opportunity to see how each school engaged with refugee issues.
During a day at Loyola Blakefield High School in Towson, Maryland, I shared our JRS Outreach presentation with 400 students throughout the day. The students kept me on my toes with their excellent questions about refugees and forcibly displaced people.
Additionally, I had the privilege of addressing the entire student body, faculty, and parents during the school’s Junior Missioning Mass, when the junior class is missioned for their upcoming senior year project spending time in direct service to others.
For this Mass, the day’s Gospel reading was Matthew 25. In reflecting upon the reading, I shared its connection to the work of Jesuit Refugee Service with the community of Loyola Blakefield:
"Our relationship with the displaced enables us to hear their needs and live out the call to service from today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, when the Lord says that whatever one has done for the ‘least of these brothers of mine,’ we have done it for Him. For example:
"For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat: When displaced women in Colombia did not have reliable access to food for their children, JRS helped them implement a program to receive food for their families.
"I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink: When the community of Los Cacaos in Haiti had to walk more than four hours a day to obtain water, JRS funded a project to pipe water down from the hills and provide 700 families with fresh, clean water.
"I was a stranger and you invited me in: When refugees from several East African nations fled their homes to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, they felt like strangers, but JRS welcomed them to our community center and helped them plan their next steps.
"I needed clothes, and you clothed me: When life in refugee camps in Ethiopia became difficult, JRS provided clothes and materials to refugee drama clubs for youth who used art and music to convey important messages around the camps.
"I was sick, and you looked after me: When people were detained in Thailand, JRS operated a medical facility in the detention center to care for them.
"I was in prison and you came to visit me: When people from all over the world were detained in U.S. immigration detention centers, JRS served as chaplains in four of these centers and visited them to provide appropriate spiritual services and help them get through the tough transition."
When I speak to groups about the work of Jesuit Refugee Service, it can sometimes be challenging to explain how JRS impacts the lives of refugees through our mission of accompanying, serving, and defending the rights of refugees, since we are not a “typical” international aid organization.
To me, Matthew’s Gospel reading not only shares a direct connection with the work of JRS, but it also serves as a concrete reminder about why we are called to serve others in the first place.
As part of our Catholic faith and Ignatian spirituality, we are called to practice hospitality and serve others. For those of us who are not hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, or a stranger in a foreign land, I encourage all of us to recognize the power we have to make a difference in the lives of others, whether they are the refugee family next door or in living in a refugee camp in Kenya.
We can make a huge difference in the lives of refugees here in the U.S. and abroad. We can speak out for the rights of refugees throughout the world.
My mission is to share the stories of refugees and forcibly displaced people. As I said to the students in Baltimore, I invite you to use your power to make a difference for forcibly displaced people as a Jesuit Advocate. To become a Jesuit Advocate, please click here and e-mail me at email@example.com