Rekindling hope
31 July 2019

St. Ignatius of Loyola (Portrait by Jacopino del Conte)

Dear friends and colleagues,

The 31st of July is always a special day for JRS when we celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. It is an occasion and grace-filled moment to reflect in gratitude on the Ignatian roots of our service to refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. In his May 24th 2019 letter "To the Whole Society of Jesus and Partners in Mission", Fr Arturo Sosa, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, revisits the founding of JRS by Fr Pedro Arrupe 40 years ago as a moment that was anchored in faithfulness to "Ignatius' criteria for our apostolic work". Thus, in carrying out the work we do, we are truly continuing Ignatius's legacy of service to the poor and excluded as a concrete expression of God's love for humanity, and not just for those close or dear to us.  We do all this by attending to the most neglected and universal needs of our world, another hallmark of Ignatius’ criteria for apostolic discernment.

The injustices and human suffering that so deeply moved Fr Pedro Arrupe and led to the founding of JRS are still present today. In fact, the situation has worsened over the intervening decades. This year the number of forcibly displaced persons has crossed the cap of 70 million and still rising. At the same time, indifference towards the plight of refugees has increased and, at times, fuelled by hostile rhetoric of identity politics as well as extreme nationalism, has given way to outright resentment. In some parts of the world, this climate of fear and exclusion has resulted in policies designed to marginalise and keep refugees out, with catastrophic consequences for people seeking safety and protection. The recent bombing of a migrants' detention centre in Libya's capital, Tripoli, was another grim reminder of the erosion of respect for fundamental human rights. Meanwhile, poor countries continue to bear alone the burden of hosting the majority of refugees despite lofty promises of solidarity from the international community. This further disincentivises these countries away from enacting humane refugee legislations, and where positive steps have been taken such as in Uganda and Ethiopia, they have been rendered ineffective due to gaping funding deficits for programmes that would create opportunities for refugees and build their self-reliance.  On another positive note, we cannot fail to commend the African Union that declared the year 2019, “The Year of Refugees, Returnees, and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa.”  We hope and pray that such a declaration will be translated in concrete policies that will greatly improve the plight of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons.

Against this dispiriting backdrop, JRS engagement is essential more than ever. There is no place for despair in JRS, for despair is incompatible with the Ignatian worldview that makes up our DNA. Hope is what defines us. As we journey with the dispossessed seeking to rebuild their lives, we rekindle the hope which, in the words of Fr Tom Smolich, SJ, JRS International Director, already "abounds in the lives of the forcibly displaced people" and together we move forward towards a better future. We have the unique privilege of bearing witness to this hope every day, sharing the dreams and aspirations of young men and women pursuing an education, helping to turn refugees' skills into businesses that enable them to put food on the table, or listening to stories that tell of their resilience and determination to move on from their traumatic past. At a time when refugees and other forcibly displaced seem abandoned by the world, Ignatius emphatically reminds us that God is on the side of the poor and that is where we need to be.

I take this opportunity to thank all of you for the support and encouragement you have provided me, the good moments we have shared, the battles we have fought together and the faith you placed in me during these past years I served as your Regional Director. It has been an honour, a privilege and an amazing journey of grace to have served with you and to have witnessed the growth of our programmes as we strove to reach more people in need in faithfulness to our mandate of promoting justice for refugees. I leave with a heightened sense of hope in the knowledge that the region will cross even greater milestones under the leadership of Mr. André Atsu over the next few years.  I urge you to accord Mr. André Atsu a similar kind of cooperation you showed me, fully aware that the success of JRS is a fruit of collective responsibility. 

Thank you all for your contribution to this mission of hope, and may the Lord continue to sustain it and reward all your efforts abundantly.

Happy St. Ignatius Day!

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Endashaw Debrework SJ
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