JRS Cambodia Celebrated Arrupe Way

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Cambodia opened Arrupe Way on 23 January to celebrate 40 years since the foundation of JRS by Fr Pedro Arrupe and 30 years of JRS Cambodia. We also celebrated that the Nuclear Ban Treaty became International Law on 22 January by setting up a special section in our disarmament room. Pedro Arrupe was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped in 1944. There he walked the streets, tending the injured.

JRS began in Cambodia in 1990 with Sister Ath, Jub Phokthavi, Noel Oliver SJ, and myself who set up activities to encourage reconciliation and justice, and integrated rural development in Ang Snuol and Banteay Priep vocational training and outreach for people with disability. A Metta-Karuna Cambodian team joined them quickly composed of Buddhist and Catholic, refugees and non-refugees, women and men, and people with disability.

The team was joined in 1993 or earlier by Godwin Genevose, Fr Vincent Dierckx SJ, and newly ordained Kike Figaredo SJ, Jean-Marie Birsens and Ashley Evans, all of whom had worked in the refugee camps. Early volunteers included Arucha (RIP), Phaiphan, Yong, Malcolm Ramsay, Michael Klein and Rob Allsop. Our first scholastic was Joaqui Salord, followed by Totet Bayanal.

Some of the pioneers of JRS Cambodia: Fr Jub Phokthavi SJ, Fr Totet Banaynal SJ, Bishop Kike Figaredo SJ, and Br Noel Oliver SJ

Today JRS continues to accompany, serve, and advocate among asylum seekers and refugees, stateless people, those forcibly displaced by trafficking, and survivors of the causes of displacement. JRS runs a Reflection Centre where people ponder the causes and challenges of displacement, pray and plan, form community, and strategise how to dialogue with government, UN, and others.

The event on Saturday celebrated Srun Sony who has worked continuously with refugees for 26 years and 10 other current JRS workers who have been involved with JRS for many years. Each received a certificate from the JRS Regional Office and a sculpture of Pedro Arrupe, carved by Mok Dim and presented by Bishop Kike, Fr Jub, Br Noel, and Fr In-don Oh SJ. The presenters also received with joy the Arrupe Sculpture Award as did I who have been with JRS for 32 years. Memories were shared in a pop up panel after talks by Bishop Kike and Fr In-don.

A special dance/drama by the community of Tahen moved all hearts as it portrayed normal country life interrupted by the horror of war and weapons. Thus, began the long walks of displacement across hazardous mine fields. In the dance Cambodia melted into the global context and we saw the people struggling through the seas. We saw the death of a child on the beach. As we mourned, the environment slowly began to regenerate. Butterflies came back and then the doves of reconciliation and peace came with hope and resurrection.

The Arrupe Way was then opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony and guests walked along it to the Arrupe Room, where photos, videos, and documents of the JRS story were displayed. We also honoured our dead in a little remembrance garden beside a model refugee house. We honoured Fr Mark Raper SJ who initiated JRS in Cambodia, and Fr Ismael Zuloaga (RIP) and Fr Thomas Steinbugler (RIP) who encouraged its development. Other international and regional directors are featured in the Arrupe Room.

A special video story of St Ignatius in Khmer for ordinary people was dubbed by So Not and his family with translation by Sok Eng. Our Cambodian guests enjoyed it very much. At Mass, later, So Not, a Buddhist, said he was inspired to follow the way of Arrupe and Ignatius. A delicious dinner, prepared by JRS Metta Karuna team, and fun followed to conclude the day.

Come and see and taste the legacy of Arrupe!

As we all ponder the path of walking with the excluded, caring for our common home, accompanying youth, and leading people to know their depth of Spirit, the Source of Love and Life, may the Arrupe spirit be with us.

Sr Denise Coghlan RSM is the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Cambodia, and the Siem Reap Reflection Centre