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The mission and vision of JRS

“The spiritual as well as material needs of nearly 16 million refugees throughout the world today could scarcely be greater. God is calling us through these helpless people. We should consider the chance of being able to assist them a privilege that will, in turn, bring great blessings to ourselves and our Society.”

Letter from Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ to all Jesuit Major Superiors, The Society of Jesus and the Refugee Problem, 14 November 1980

The immense suffering of the Indochinese boat people who fled the aftermath of war and communism in Vietnam in the late seventies and early eighties profoundly moved Pedro Arrupe SJ, then Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Convinced of both the “dramatically urgent” needs of the refugees and the potential of the Jesuits to respond, Fr Arrupe set up the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in 1980.

The far-sighted founder of JRS had a clear vision for the network he founded:  JRS should deliver a “human, pedagogical and spiritual” response and meet urgent needs ignored by others, focusing especially on “those groups or areas that receive little publicity or help from elsewhere”. Administration, he cautioned, should be kept light. The main idea was to make men available to be in the refugee camps.

Thirty years later, JRS is still guided by the vision of its founder. With projects in over 50 countries, our main priority is to be with refugees, offering a service based on a direct and personal style of presence, concentrating our energies on a limited number of sectors where personal relationships and pastoral accompaniment are emphasised, especially education. The overarching vision is to nurture hope.

JRS is a “common apostolic work” of the universal Society of Jesus, which has confirmed its mission to accompany, serve and defend the cause of refugees, a mission implemented by Jesuits together with lay colleagues, many of whom are refugees, and members of other religious congregations.

JRS embraces the definition of a ‘de facto refugee’ in Catholic social teaching, which encapsulates internally displaced persons, those displaced by erroneous economic policies and humanitarian reasons, and many others. The ‘refugee-migrant’ nexus remains an open question as we seek out the most vulnerable forcibly displaced people, the most forgotten.

As an international humanitarian NGO led by Gospel and Ignatian values, JRS has a somewhat unique identity. Its vision is inspired by the spirituality of the founder of the Jesuit order, Ignatius of Loyola. This influence is clear in how and where JRS decides to intervene, seeking to be forever flexible and open to new challenges, giving priority to situations of greatest need, to places where a more universal good may be achieved and to needs unattended to by others – all criteria advocated by Ignatius.

Drawing on the wishes of its founder, its mission and underlying values, JRS continues to adapt its vision to meet new and urgent needs occasioned by emerging global challenges, and also follow trends set by the Society of Jesus. One of the key messages of the 35th Jesuit General Congregation (2008) was to reach new physical, cultural, religious and social frontiers, to go beyond frontiers, to the edges of humanity, to those who are estranged.

Taking on this call in earnest, JRS is making a conscious effort to remain flexible and respond swiftly to new crisis situations. In mid-2008, JRS set up in the Middle East, attending to Iraqi refugees, and is committed to expanding and consolidating its services in this region. As culture and religion increasingly become potential sources of conflict, JRS wants to reach out more to refugees in predominantly Muslim contexts. Actually, this is nothing new. JRS has always welcomed people of diverse faiths to share a common mission and our focus on pastoral accompaniment and peace education is inter-religious. Here too, we wish to intensify our involvement, to deliberately foster the fragile possibilities of reconciliation among those we work with, victims of so much hatred and injustice.

The search for new frontiers has taken JRS to a diversity of places where refugees face great deprivations and abuse of their basic rights: traditional refugee camps, detention centres and prisons, conflict zones, border areas, and in the heart of big cities. More and more, we feel called to work in urban areas, home to nearly half the world’s refugee population, to deepen our understanding of their unique protection needs and problems.