I (Christian Keeley) am now halfway through my experiment with JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service) and the Hurtado Jesuit Centre here in Wapping, East London.
It has been a challenging yet rewarding experience so far, and a period in my Jesuit and novitiate life when I can say I have been the happiest. It has been a time of coming back to the place and the people where that initial flame of vocation was kindled, a time that has been full of grace as I meet old friends and people I used to work with. Having been away for nearly two years it has been interesting to notice the changes but at the same time how things have continued as I left them so there is a great sense of peace in that.
My work at JRS can be divided neatly into two sections, destitution and detention. They probably sound a bit peculiar but these are the two fields in which JRS has its mission. Within destitution I have been engaging in a variety of different projects here as well as dealing directly with refugees who are destitute namely those who have no recourse to public funds. In my detention work I have been visiting the Immigration Removal Centres near Heathrow and seeing a detainee one-on-one, which has been a fairly harrowing experience at times but at the same time a confirmation of where I am needed.
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre has been perhaps a more ad hoc adventure, and I think the word organic, that has become ubiquitous when we describe the centre sums up what I have been doing. Jim Conway and myself have, in some ways, been trying to understand, interpret and ultimately communicate an identity for the centre, so this has involved me developing a website and visiting local projects simply introducing ourselves as a Jesuit presence in the local area. So, there has been a great sense of creativity in the project and hopefully what we are doing initially will come to fruition.
The work I have most enjoyed, perhaps to my surprise, is in the local parish. I have taken over as the Catechist leading a group of people in the RCIA program, for adults who want to become Catholic. It has been a beautiful experience where I have realised what it means to pass on the gift of faith to people and how much people thirst for that hope that faith in God brings. It has taught me a lot about my own faith and my ideas for future ministry as a Jesuit as we continue to ask that ever-present question of ‘what is the greatest need?’
So as we sense the murmurings of spring, as Henry, Joel and Peter in the first-year rejoice in completing the Spiritual Exercises, I end with a Celtic prayer praising the reality of God who is in our midst.
I am more in heaven than on earth,
For I am the child that you gave birth.
You made me possessing eternal life,
Let me not lose it by sin or strife.
This is the world which dwells in you,
Open my eyes to know this is true.
All is enfolded, Lord, in your peace;
Let me experience it and fears cease.
Help me to see that you, Lord, are here;
Then brightness comes and daystars appear.
Grant us to feel you are with us now,
Teach us in wonder before you to bow.
Everything created you, Lord, embrace,
Help us to sense it in this very place,
That we may know that whatever appear,
You, Lord, are present and with us here.
(David Adam, Border Lands)