Conference of European Provincials
3 Rue des Trévires, 1040 Brussels, Belgium
Sunday, November 14th 2010.
Dear Brothers in Christ, Dear Friends
I write to offer some reflections on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of JRS. We pay tribute first of all to Fr Arrupe, the founder of JRS who read so well the signs of the times during the time of the Vietnamese boat-people crisis and acted so decisively.
For a number of years, the refugee issue has been a priority for the Conference of Provincials and it directly supports the JRS Europe desk in Brussels. This desk coordinates the work for refugees around Europe and supports it in every way possible. Especially on this anniversary I congratulate Michael Schöpf (GER) and his team there. I also want to mention Eddy Jadot (BML) who did so much to establish this service across Europe in its early years.
Here in Europe, the anniversary is a chance for us to acknowledge what we do for refugees while at the same time accepting with humility our limitations and shortcomings. We have JRS offices and contact points in many countries of Europe involving Jesuits, religious and lay people. In addition many Jesuits and others from Europe work as volunteers in developing countries, giving generously often in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. Thirdly, our Mission Offices and NGOs offer important financial and other support. All of this aims to improve the situation of people who are often in the most desperate circumstances.
I should also mention the co-operation between the CEP in Europe and the Conference of Provincials of Africa and Madagascar (JESAM). We assist the JRS in Malta, which is so much at the frontline, with the presence of an East African Jesuit and a Polish Jesuit.
As European Jesuits it is good to recall that the situation after World War Two and the great number of people who were fleeing unjust regimes and persecution was the direct reason for the passing of the Geneva Convention on refugees in 1951. The refugee issue, therefore, has a special meaning and history in our European context.
In the years and decades since, Europe has been a haven for so many people who fled in search of their human rights and to protect their lives and safety. Unfortunately governments in Europe now show a tendency to restrict the asylum system and to narrow the definition of refugee. This is a trend that we must oppose. It is now difficult for those seeking asylum even to reach Europe in order to make a request for asylum; they tend instead to be restricted to areas in North Africa or even further away from our European borders. We forget easily that 80% of the world’s displaced people live in the global south. While there have been some abuses of the asylum system, asylum is a key protection that is still very much needed and that Europe is in a position to offer, even more so now that we are enjoying an unprecedented period of peace and democracy. If people come here seeking safety, surely we must share this gift of peace with them, a gift for which we ourselves struggled so much in the last century.
Finally I want to mention the issue of migration. It is, of course, a separate issue but it is related to the refugee one with many areas of overlap. Migrants who come to Europe are from a variety of contexts but some, perhaps even many, are seeking safety from conditions of extreme poverty and injustice, conditions that can threaten their very lives. Many European Jesuits and their colleagues work on behalf of migrants and I also wish to acknowledge their contribution today.
We pray in the Our Father that God’s will be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. The concrete actions of those who work for refugees bear witness to the love of the Father for the least ones. These actions are a sign here on earth of a Kingdom where the values are different, where the poor are raised up and the last are first. And so, our work in JRS is an integral part of our work of evangelization, a way of bringing the Good News to our European societies.
With every blessing on this anniversary
John Dardis SJ
President, Conference of European Provincials