JESC and the Crisis.

JESC team online during the current crisis

Together with other European Jesuit works, the Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC) is providing a crisis response that is coherent with its mission. Established by the Jesuit Provincials of Europe and the Near East, the mission of JESC is to promote faith and justice by reinvigorating the European common good. We are called to promote the spirit of solidarity and “vision and values for Europe” (the purpose of JESC). This has become particularly obvious in the current times. The CoViD-19 pandemic has revealed all too many weaknesses of the European project. For example, at the beginning of the crisis, Italy and Spain suffered a painful lack of solidarity from the part of other European countries and the EU itself. Some even presume that the European Union may be falling apart due to this and other crises.

In order to respond to Europe’s “epochal challenge” (Pope Francis, April 12, on the crisis), JESC ongoing activities seem to be more relevant than ever:

  • giving a voice to the excluded in the European political process and accompanying groups committed to rethink Europe;
  • bringing closer the Jesuit social apostolate (action through service, advocacy, formation and research);
  • accompanying the European ecological transition towards increased sustainability, relying on different ecological apostolates in Europe;
  • reinforcing Jesuit and Christian networks through youth leadership formation.
European Leadership Programme with Luca Jahier,
President of the European Economic and Social Committee and a Jesuit alumnus.

The Pope’s warning

Pope Francis’ understanding of the current crisis may come as a shock. Five years ago, the Pope declared (Mother) Earth as “Our Sister” and “our Common Home.” In his encyclical Laudato Si’, he called attention to this Common Home as crying out to us, “burdened and laid waste”. Coinciding with “the tragic coronavirus pandemic”, the Pope dedicated his General Audience of April 22nd to the Earth Day celebration, going further in his warnings. He announced that “if we have despoiled the earth, its response will be very ugly”. The Pope’s argument is that the earth does not forgive and he continues: “There will be no future for us if we destroy the environment that sustains us". As the Pope may rightly fear a “very ugly” response, we are called to bring about a necessary balance in order to avoid a dooms-day scenario. The Pope speaks of “a harmonious relationship with the earth”, calling us to renew “our commitment to love and care for our common home and for the weaker members of our human family.” So, how does JESC collaborate in this call? We propose a response of vulnerability and solidarity.

Vulnerability: We are mortal yet hopeful

This epochal crisis reminds us that our planet is vulnerable and that we are mortal. Exposed to a practically invisible virus we find ourselves almost powerless. In overcrowded camps, refugees are dying due to malnutrition, violence and now the virus; in nursing homes the elderly and others left behind are being swiped away by the same virus; the essential-services providers are risking and losing their lives. Moreover, the globally poor handling of the crisis has caused a decay of our social institutions (as, for example, the threats to European integration or to EU’s rule of law, etc.); and there are those who abuse the crisis for their political or financial benefit.

We are vulnerable mortals. Yet, our mortality and our powerlessness do not have the last say. Only by facing our death with humility and faith will we be saved. Accepting our vulnerability may be one of the most freeing and spiritual remedies we can offer. It is the recognition of our own vulnerability that will bring us closer in this crisis. Mutual trust, which we need to deal with the conflicts and crises we face, can only emerge among people and societies that are vulnerable enough to open up and come closer to one another. By knowing our limits and trusting more in God’s saving work around and in us, we will be able to walk humbly with the excluded and collaborate effectively in the caring for our Common Home. So, let us build on our vulnerability as a resource as we journey through this crisis.

In JESC, we journey with others through this global crisis. The “Closer through Crisis” campaign is one of our responses. First, we have decided to share the simple joys of our daily routines to navigate together through the quarantine time and to rediscover the power of vulnerability. So, we produce and share articles, videos, links, and projects to its audience to encourage and challenge people to stay reflective and hopeful during this period. Next, we highlight different initiatives, opinions and research from a range of authors to represent a variety of institutions and political perspectives. That allows us to enlarge and enrich debate and discussion. Moreover, the campaign has allowed us to call for and build on solidarity.

Solidarity: Jesuits help millions of people globally

Pope Francis recently stated that “As the tragic coronavirus pandemic has taught us, we can overcome global challenges only by showing solidarity with one another and embracing the most vulnerable in our midst” (General Audience, April 22). Our #CloserThroughCrisis campaign helps us to share the responses of many Jesuit social projects to this crisis. We found that we are very innovative and concrete on showing solidarity. Let as show a few examples how this is true in Europe and around the globe.

Zoom preparatory meeting of the SJES 2019 Jubilee Congress in Rome:
participants from Europe’s social centres and various justice works.

In Europe, our Jesuit organizations and partners put themselves at the service of the weakest in different ways. Currently a member of the ALBOAN team and the Delegate for discernment and apostolic planning, Patxi Álvarez SJ recently stated: “Serving the most vulnerable people is a responsibility, but also a privilege”. He adds that in this moment we should think of the possibility to serve others as a “gift” and a task to accomplish. Moreover, various solidarity and advocacy actions have been carried out by our social centres: we can begin in Barcelona where Cristianisme i Justícia dedicates a whole section of its website to reflections on Coronavirus in a faith-justice perspective and how this situation affects the most vulnerable; in Dublin, The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice continues its battle against overcrowded prisons and climate change, both accentuated by the COVID-19 crisis. We could also mention our centres of reflection and social action in Paris, Milano, Munich, Lisbon, Budapest, Warsaw, Brussels, Palermo and beyond. Do visit their websites and publications.

Globally, JESC has participated in conducting a comprehensive survey that assesses the Jesuit response to the pandemic (coordinated by the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat in Rome). The first unofficial and rough results show that we are already helping millions of people worldwide. (The numbers and the maps will be published soon.) It is a response faithful to the Jesuit magis: we are embracing, promoting and carrying out forms of solidarity that are becoming increasingly global. Our task now is to coordinate further this Jesuit response.

Over 200 participants of the SJES Jubilee Congress. 

"Only together, and looking after the most fragile (members of society) can we win global challenges," the Pope said on the 22nd of April. How so? First, let us keep in mind that a “very ugly” response of Our Sister earth is indeed a likely global scenario. In addition, if we handle badly this crisis that combines health, ecological and economic components, the poor will be hit even harder. Second, our advocacy work in Brussels and around Europe confirms that we need and want to stay together as a family of nations, close to the poorest and the most excluded of our society. In this sense, the #CloserThroughCrisis campaign has the same objective: Serving the poor and promoting justice.

Peter Rožič SJ
Director of JESC and JCEP Social Delegate