A reflection on the 30th anniversary of the foundation of JRS

Frido Pflüger SJ
Former JRS Eastern Africa Regional Director
Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dear friends, 

In many regions, countries and projects we have already celebrated JRS's 30th anniversary. 

The foundation stone of JRS was laid on November 14th, 1980 by the late General Superior of the Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe. 

In 1980 Fr Arrupe was deeply moved by the suffering of the many thousands of Vietnamese refugees, the so called boat people. He said, we cannot only look at this suffering and say sorry, no, we have to do something. And this was the birth of JRS. He gave JRS a vision, which everyone who works with JRS has internalised: to accompany, to serve and to advocate. 

According to my understanding, to accompany was most important for him. Once he said: "We want our presence among refugees to be one of sharing with them, of accompaniment, of walking together along the same path." Even Pope Benedict XVI addressed this in his homily at the last General Congregation of the Jesuits: "Taking up one of the latest intuitions of Father Arrupe, your Society continues to engage in a meritorious way in the service of the refugees who are often the poorest among the poor and need not only material help but also the deeper spiritual, human and psychological proximity especially proper to your service." 

In 1987 I had the chance to learn the meaning of this essential as a young Jesuit. I was working in a camp with refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I lived inside the camp and could do nearly nothing. I had no money, nothing to distribute. The only thing I had was time. And I spent this time saying mass every day in the refugee church, praying with them, hearing confessions, joining their meetings in different church groups, visiting the families in their living quarters, I was simply with the people. 

In the evening I often asked myself: what have I done today? And all I could say was: I was there, I was with them. I was not too happy, because it was not enough in my eyes. Only after a couple of weeks, I realised through the feedback of the refugees, how they appreciated my presence, even though I could not hand out anything. We were meeting on the same level, eye to eye. We spoke about our life, we shared our hopes, I listend to their fears and sorrows. They could speak out about their suffering. And in fact it was all about respect and dignity. Food for their souls! And I started to understand what Fr. Arrupe meant by accompaniment.  

Now, JRS is working in more than 50 countries in different parts of the world with the strongest presence in Africa. During the last meeting of all regional directors in Syria in November 2010, JRS established Middle East as a new region, the 10th in JRS. With all our activities, such as education, emergency support, school construction, peace education, pastoral care, psycho-social work, advocacy - and not to forget administration - the main and central emphasis of everybody's work is to accompany, to be with the people we work with, guided by respect and dignity.

Let us continue to pray and ask for God's blessings for ourselves and our mission! United in this mission I send my best wishes and regards to all of you, with a deep gratitude for your dedicated commitment. 


Frido Pflueger SJ
JRS Eastern Africa Director