Photo: Rescued migrants are silhouetted as they look out at the horizon aboard the Ocean Viking, in the Mediterranean Sea, September 13, 2019 (AP)

(Source: Novena/Vatican News)

It’s been 40 years since the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) began its mission to help the many men, women and children who seek refuge and assistance.

JRS past and present

In a letter to mark four decades of JRS service, Pope Francis recalled its founder, the Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ, who, he said, is an example of “this intimately Christian and Ignatian desire to care for the well-being of all those who find themselves in a state of deep despair”.

Father Arrupe, wrote the Pope, transformed his dismay at the plight of the suffering “into a deeply practical attention to their physical, psychological and spiritual well-being”.

“Reach out the hand of friendship”

The work of JRS has taken its cue from its Christian ethos, from its beginnings with the Vietnamese boat people in the 1980s up to the present day with the coronavirus pandemic, which has shown how the entire human family is “in the same boat”, finding itself faced with unprecedented economic and social challenges, the Pope said.

He also underlined, “Nowadays too many people in the world are forced to cling to boats in an attempt to seek refuge from the viruses of injustice, violence, and war”.

In light of these grave inequalities, Pope Francis said, JRS has a crucial role to play in raising awareness of the reality facing refugees and displaced people.

“It is your vital duty to reach out the hand of friendship to those who are alone, separated by their families, or abandoned, accompanying them and strengthening their voice, and above all by ensuring that they have the opportunity to grow through your education and development”, the Pope wrote.

The “culture of encounter” alone “lays the foundations for an authentic and lasting solidarity for the good of the human family”

Francis also noted that JRS’ witness of God’s love in serving refugees and migrants is “fundamental to building a ‘culture of encounter’ that alone lays the foundations for an authentic and lasting solidarity for the good of the human family”.

Looking to the future, the Pope expressed the hope that there would be “no setbacks or challenges, personal or institutional”, that may distract from or discourage the mission of the JRS to accompany those in need and ensure that their rights are defended.

In conclusion, the Pope sent his best wishes to the Centro Astalli in Rome (the Italian headquarters of JRS in Italy) and to all JRS staff and volunteers around the world.

Francis urges educators to teach respect for people and for creation

Also on Thursday, Francis wrote to the head of the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools (Piarists), Pedro Aguado Cuesta, on the occasion of an online working seminar on the Pope’s Global Educational Pact. The pontiff invited the Piarists to renew in themselves the commitment and enthusiasm of their founder, St Joseph Calasanctius.

The working seminar, organised by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG) and taking place November 12-14, is being held online due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The role of religious in education

In his letter, Pope Francis noted the role religious men and women have traditionally played in education. He pointed to the example of the Piarists’ founder St Joseph Calasanctius, the first to provide free schools to the poor.

Over time, the Pope said, “different charisms have emerged in all periods of history, which, by God’s gift, have understood how to adapt to the needs and challenges of every time and place”.

Today, the Church calls on the Piarists “to renew that purpose within [their] own identity”, the Pope said, thanking them “for taking up this witness with such commitment and enthusiasm”.

Lines of concrete action

Earlier this year, in a video message to a meeting held at the Pontifical Lateran University on the Global Compact on Education, the Holy Father laid out seven essential commitments of the project.

In his letter on Thursday, Pope Francis compressed those commitments into three lines of concrete action: to focus, to welcome, and to involve.

“Focusing on what is important means to put the person at the centre” of our efforts, the Pope said, as he encouraged educators to help young people to grow and find their place in the world.

“Valuing the person makes education a means for our children and young people to grow and mature, acquiring the skills and resources necessary to build a future of justice and peace together”, he explained.

“To achieve this”, Francis continued, “we need to be welcoming”. This entails listening, including listening to children, as well as going beyond “our educational circle”.

Welcoming also implies helping children to learn to work together with others, and also involves fostering “an empathetic attitude that rejects the culture of discarding”, the Pope said.

He added that it is also important that children “learn to safeguard our common home”.

Pope Francis said, “The last line of action, to involve, is decisive”.

Listening, he explained, does not mean simply hearing and forgetting, “but must be a platform that allows everyone to be actively involved in this educational work”.

It means “working to give children and young people” the tools to understand challenges and propose and work toward solutions that will benefit the whole human family.

An essential part of education

Concluding his letter, Pope Francis assured Father Aguado Cuesta that he was accompanying the efforts of the institutes represented at the online seminar, as well as those of all those working in the field of education, whether consecrated or lay.

He prayed that God would continue to ensure that consecrated life remain “an essential part of the global educational pact in this historical moment”.

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