|The JRS “decision to be present in areas of greatest need, in conflict and post-conflict zones, has brought you international recognition for your closeness to people and your ability to learn from this how better to serve,” said Pope Francis|
(Nairobi) November 25, 2015 — Today Pope Francis embarks on his first journey to Africa, beginning his five-day trip in Nairobi before going on to Kampala, Uganda, and then Bangui, Central African Republic.
Among his many stops, he will be visiting an urban slum, the United Nations, schools, churches, mosques, prayer vigils and a camp for displaced people in Central African Republic, a country still engulfed in inter-communal violence. He will meet with diverse religious leaders, heads of state and other government officials as well as citizens and refugees of varying faiths, ages and backgrounds.
Throughout his visit, Pope Francis is expected to call for inter-religious cooperation, environmental protection, youth empowerment, and an end to conflict on the continent.
Jesuit Refugee Service welcomes Pope Francis and looks forward to attending two events where he will speak in Nairobi. A select number of JRS staff and refugees will be in attendance when Pope Francis visits the United Nations Office at Nairobi as well as Saint Joseph’s parish in Kangemi area of Nairobi.
JRS is present in five countries in eastern Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda where teams provide education, emergency assistance, vocational training and psychosocial counseling to displaced persons. JRS also advocates for integration, access to education and an end to conflict in the region.
On 14 November 2015, in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of JRS, Pope Francis met with refugees and JRS staff and supporters during a private audience.
The JRS “decision to be present in areas of greatest need, in conflict and post-conflict zones, has brought you international recognition for your closeness to people and your ability to learn from this how better to serve,” said Pope Francis at the meeting.
Fr Endashaw Debrework S.J., Regional Director of JRS Eastern Africa, was in attendance and shared a booklet of testimonies and messages from refugees served by JRS across Eastern Africa. The booklet is part of the Pontifex Hear Us campaign, in which refugees call for messages of inclusion, education, participation, solidarity and peace building to be amplified during his visit to the region.
“In anticipation of your visit to Eastern Africa, we are bringing you 12 stories out of 60 million — allowing their voices to be heard as they call on the Church to drive the world forward into a more peaceful and inclusive future,” wrote Fr Endashaw in the booklet’s introduction letter.
“They have crossed manmade borders of Uganda and Kenya where they seek, not only their rights to protection, but also spiritual guidance, opportunities to learn and grow as well as recognition from their host communities.”
In the booklet, Fr Endashaw thanks Pope Francis being a strong advocate for the displaced worldwide.
“You have called on the Church and humanity at large to open their doors and their hearts to the plight of those who have suffered the most from conflicts driven by greed and justice. Thank you for hearing us. Thank you for addressing this current global crisis of conflict and persecution which has driven 60 million people to flee for their lives causing an age of unprecedented displacement in our world’s history,” Fr. Endashaw wrote.
Pope Francis has long advocated for the rights of refugees. His first visit outside the Vatican was to Lampedusa, Italy in 2013, where he commemorated the lives of refugees and migrants lost at sea on their journey to protection. He has also visited refugees at a center for refugees run by JRS Italy, commonly known as Centro Astalli, in Rome where he emphasized the importance of the JRS mission to accompany, serve and defend the forcible displaced.
Three days after his recent meeting with JRS International staff in Rome, he reminded the world that “if the door of God’s mercy is always open, even so must be the doors of our churches, the love of our communities, our parishes, our institutions, our dioceses, for when they are, we can all go out to bring this mercy of God [to those who most need it].”
JRS Eastern Africa sincerely hopes the Holy Father will reiterate the call for welcome for refugees in the region, where millions of displaced seek acceptance, integration, education and the right to work in camps in urban centers.