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The Service of the Faith and the Promotion of Justice

When we think of Church ministries, most people’s mind will drift to parishes. Further along the way, some will think about school and hospital chaplaincies. But how about asylum seekers and refugees? For  the whole of February and the beginning of March, I spent 5 weeks working at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). To my surprise, my first experiment was a joyful and non-traditional way of  Church ministry.
 
Founded by Fr. Arrupe in 1980, JRS began with a clear three-dimensional mission: to accompany, to serve and to act as an advocate for refugees and asylum seekers.  33 years later, the same spirit of Christian service to those in exile is alive in 50 countries.  In the UK, this is based in the Hurtado Centre in Wapping, London.
 
From my first day at JRS, I went through mixed emotions. On one side, I felt anger and frustration at hearing the injustices the clients went through. Conversely, I sensed a hopeful and warm atmosphere in the midst of difficulties. Speaking to Louise Zanre, the Director of JRS-UK, I learnt that it is normal to go through these emotions and that anger can be use in a positive way.    
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During my time with JRS I learnt that social justice is not about being “superman” (or “superwoman”). It is about loving and serving your neighbour in the example of Christ. As Fr. Arrupe  said: “the help needed is not only material: in a special way, the Society of Jesus is called to render a service that is human, pedagogical and spiritual” I strongly believe this is the way to be Church in our world: to be ears, voice and arms for those ignored, silenced and constrained by society.  
 
My time at JRS was a very dynamic one. From attending conferences about torture, to making cups of tea, I was impressed by the different services the centre provides.  To mention some: the companion programme, the day centre and the detention outreach programme. Through the five weeks of my experiment, my main project was to update the database of associate centres.  This meant that I had to ring the other outreach centres in London, update their data in our system and improve the format of the leaflets we provided to our clients. Thankfully, the staff and clients were pleased with the final product.
 
Even though I enjoyed working on the database, my favourite time in JRS was the Drop-in Centre on Thursdays. Once a week, the centre provides free a lunch, a monthly bag of toiletries, and transport money.  But most importantly, the centre offers a welcoming and friendly environment for the clients. With the help of the volunteers, the centre becomes a beacon of smiles and laughs. A place where people from all over the planet can express themselves in a free and respectful manner. Something that some of us can take for granted. As a client mentioned to me once: “I go to centre A to get food parcels, to Centre B to get legal advice and to JRS to have a nice time”.
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With a prophetic voice, Blessed John Paul II described the forced migration phenomenon as the great scar of the XXI century. Without a doubt, there is a lot more to do for refugees and asylum seekers. But it was consoling and hopeful to see the fruits of charity and justice throughout my experiment. My experience in JRS has reconfigured my understanding of church. The Church is a community of believers, but it is also the Kingdom of God stretching to the whole earth. During my time in JRS I learnt to see a Church that is a witness not through conversion, but through compassion and advocacy to the meek. A Church that sees in the each human person, the fullness of God’s Kingdom. 
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