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Farm Street Church this week witnessed a joyful start to the Advent season as it hosted the Jesuit Refugee Service's Advent service. The readings, which included both traditional scripture and poetry, read by JRS staff, volunteers and refugees, gave the packed church plenty to reflect upon. The service was led by Fr Damian Howard SJ, who asked in his welcome that we "think of those who are far from home, missing their loved ones, and make ourselves present to them as God makes himself present to us."  His homily identified the wisdom of refugees, who uniquely have the experience to understand what is needed to bring reconciliation in the "complexity and grime of the human world".  He concluded "may you welcome the God of refugee wisdom into your home this Christmas, may you sense His presence anew, inviting you into saving companionship."  Read the full homily. Highlights of the service  were performances by the JRS Gospel Choir, supported by Magdalena Supel of the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir, and the JRS UK Refugee drama group, supported by Rise Theatre. Rise Theatre explained, "we have been working with the drama group for nine weeks. Early on someone talked about being like migrant geese, which got us thinking of the story of the Christmas Goose.  The story tells of a husband and wife: the wife knows and loves Jesus; the husband cannot understand how a God could come to earth as a man.  Through trying to save a flock of migrant geese on a stormy night, the husband has a revelation." As the migrant geese, the actors gave witness to their experience of trying to seek sanctuary: "The system is designed to create chaos, to kick you when you are down." Sarah Teather, JRS UK Director,  thanked those involved in preparing the service, and reminded everyone that the work of accompaniment fulfilled through JRS's weekly day centre, its day centre plus activities (including the choir and drama group), and the detention visiting programme are all reliant on the support of people of good will. Han, a committed Catholic who has been coming to JRS for about a year, was performing  with the JRS Gospel Choir, which helps to counter the crushing sense of isolation that many of JRS' refugee friends experience. “The Home Office has identified me as a person with no purpose in life,” Han explained, “I have been denied housing, healthcare, legal aid and I don’t have any money to support myself, so this is very good help for me.”  Han explained that singing in the choir “rejuvenates the mind, the soul. It encourages me to face challenges in life.”
The novices of Britain and Ireland have just returned from their autumn work experience placements, known in Jesuit jargon as “experiments”. Experiments were designed by St. Ignatius to test a man’s vocation through the two-year novitiate period. Experiments mirror the various steps taken by St Ignatius after his conversion. For centuries, Jesuit formation has included these same methods as a means to test, stretch, clarify, and confirm the novice’s vocation. Typical novice experiments include hospital work (meaning work with marginalised people, who in St Ignatius' day tended to live in "hospitals" or places of safety run by religious), a pilgrimage, the 30-day Spiritual Exercises, and teaching. Testing the equilibrium Paolo Beltrame has just returned from Dublin where for the last six weeks he has been teaching and assisting in the chaplaincy of Belvedere College.  Paolo, who was doing post-doctoral research in astro-particle physics before joining the Jesuits, taught science to fifth formers and was asked to give a number of talks on his specialist subject to wider audiences. “I have had lots of experience teaching at tertiary level” commented Paolo, “but teaching high school boys was new to me.  I think the idea of the experiment is to push the boundaries of where you feel comfortable and test how I can engage, collaborate and work with different groups.” Belvedere College chaplaincy has a well-embedded programme which connects the intellectual approach with opportunities for social justice and retreats for spiritual renewal. “One thing I noticed,” Paolo observed, “is that there is a tension in the Ignatian approach between the intellectual and social justice work. The two poles don’t easily come to synthesis.  I see it a bit like walking for which you need two legs! – Each time you take a step you move out of a state of equilibrium, but you have to do this in order to move forward.  Everything we did in the school - study, homework, social justice ministry - was an opportunity for reflection and was in itself a kind of prayer.  Whether you are looking at stars or supporting the poor you need to engage your intellect, otherwise how do we provoke any change?  These young men were all very thoughtful, very committed and not afraid to question.” More Ignatian than the Jesuits Also on experiment in an Irish Jesuit high school was Ian Jackson who spent six weeks at Coláiste Iognáid (known as The Jes) in Galway.  He taught Maths and RE including teaching St Ignatius’ examen prayer to both pupils and teachers; and he supported the schools’ Kairos leaders, sixth formers leading retreats for younger children, and managed to inspire them with his vocation story - ”I was really happy about that,” he said, “they were very intelligent, mature, creative and independent minds so I was delighted they were touched by my story”.  During the half term break he worked for Educate Magis – the global network of Jesuit educators which connects those working in over 2,300 Jesuit schools worldwide.  Like Paolo, Ian was inspired by the lay collaborators: “They were more Ignatian than the Jesuits, it was awesome to see them just getting on with it”, he commented. A joy-filled time of laughter and love Matthew Tumulty spent his experiment living in the L’Arche community in Edinburgh -  a community where people with and without learning disabilities share life together. Matthew, gained interesting insights of God at work. “I quickly realised as a member of this community that in fact I was the one with the disabilities. The people I was living with who could not communicate verbally were absolute masters at non-verbal communication. I felt much more limited in what I was able to express.  I came to realise that societal norms are very inhibiting, and we tend to smother out the laughter. My friends showed me how to enjoy every moment and to give unconditional love and trust. God was working through them to show me something that I really wasn’t expecting, it was a joy-filled time of laughter and love.”
Jesuit scholastic Christopher Brolly has spent six weeks working alongside refugee communities in Calais, where, despite the removal of the 9000 residents of the ‘Calais Jungle’ in 2016, around 500 migrants and refugees remain, some of whom are unaccompanied minors, mainly from war-torn countries such as Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan. “The conditions are dire,” observed Chris “basic human rights are threatened - provision of water, food, and accommodation are propped up by the humanitarian response of charities, and refugees often have their personal possessions and tents taken from them during evictions from their campsites, without being provided alternative accommodation. There have been instances of police violence.” Chris volunteered with Utopia 56, first in a large warehouse organising consignments of donated goods, and then distributing among the refugees. “What struck me the most,” he commented, “as well as the passion of the volunteers here to make the world a better place, was a wonderful atmosphere of tolerance and community. Around 17,000 people, mainly young, have volunteered over the past few years. The cause of the refugee communities here in Calais is clearly something that has captured the imagination young people of Britain and France and encouraged them to give their time freely.” Joseph and Michael After two weeks Chris moved on to accompanying sick or disabled refugees to access medical help.  He describes how he met “Joseph” (names have been changed), a young Eritrean, who had been run over by a car: “He was alone in the emergency department, unable to speak French and with very little English. I was struck by how young he was and how frightened he looked. We introduced ourselves, held his hand to reassure him and then took him to have his numerous wounds checked at a clinic. There was little we could say to Joseph, but I had a sense that just being there was important.  As he came out of the clinic holding a large brown paper bag full of painkillers and bandages, I asked him if he had brought me a kebab, to which we had a good laugh together. From that point on, each time we saw each other he would smile broadly, and repeat ‘kebab, kebab!’ and I would marvel at how a few daft words and ‘just being there’ could help endear us to someone and make a difference to their life. Another hospitalised migrant was “Michael” who had been shot by a people smuggler and left paralysed. Chris took a group of Michael’s friends to visit him:  “it was moving to watch the guys overcome the adversity of the situation and look after their friend, taking turns to feed him, comb his hair and joke with him. I felt that, unable to enter into conversation, all I could do to help was to enter into prayer and I did so, focussing on their faces and loving actions.” Camp evictions Chris also witnessed two refugee camps evictions during which large numbers of armoured police ordered the residents to leave and confiscated their tents and bedding: “I sat in the sand on the edge of the camp next to the young Afghan men, placing myself physically alongside them at this difficult time, felt the right thing to do, even if mentally I wasn’t ‘taking sides’. What saddened me the most was seeing the awkwardness in the faces of the officers, determined to do a good job, yet visibly uncomfortable at the complicated reality they found themselves in.” For his final week in Calais Chris joined the Maria Skobstova community  in which Christian volunteers live alongside migrants of all backgrounds.  The community pray, prepare and eat meals, and maintain the house together.  Chris describes how he gained more understanding from living alongside migrants than he had in previous volunteering in his blog.
At the beginning of November the Living Wage Foundation celebrated Living Wage Week by announcing the new Living Wage hourly rate for 2018/19 of £9 per hour, an increase of 25p per hour. Launch events were held around the country to bring together business, influencers and civil society to announce and celebrate the new rate and the movement, and to call on key institutions to join the campaign to close the gap between the government minimum and the real Living Wage.  Fr Brendan Callaghan SJ, Superior of the Manchester Jesuit community, was invited to share the platform with the Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, as well as other faith leaders, including Imam Abid Khan of Cheadle Mosque – the first Living Wage affiliated mosque in the north west. Quoting the famous papal encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) “by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition,”  Fr Brendan reminded the audience that dignity in work is a key  Brendan Callaghan SJ speaking at Living Wage launch 2018principle of Catholic Social Teaching.  After referring to examples from  the old and new testaments Fr Brendan concluded, “World faiths all share this commitment to the common good and the just treatment of each other.  What makes for justice will triumph over injustice.  What makes for unity will triumph over what divides.  What leads to life will triumph over what leads to death and destruction.  We can and we will make a difference.” The Society of Jesus Trust has been a Living Wage employer since March 2016 and is one of over 4,700 employers across the UK including 338 in the north west and 1,500 in London, where the Living Wage is now £10.55 per hour, an increase of 35p per hour. The Living Wage is a cause strongly supported by the Citizens UK movement, in which several Jesuit parishes and chaplaincies are involved.  The Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy was a driving force behind the establishment of the Manchester Chapter of Citizens UK and gives office space to its permanent staff. The Manchester event, at the National Football Museum, was sponsored by IKEA, whose spokesperson said that paying the Living Wage was good for business – the extra IKEA spends on wages is more than offset by reductions in recruitment and training costs. New research finds that £809,000,000 in extra wages has gone to low-paid workers because of the Living Wage movement, with almost £200m extra received in the past year alone.
“On behalf of all of us from the Mount, we would like to thank everyone for their warm hospitality,” said William Yacomeni, Deputy Head Boy of Mount St Mary’s College, at the conclusion of the Jesuit Student Leadership Conference. “We learnt a great deal. The conference, which ran from Wednesday 26th September to Friday 29th September, was held at the Jesuit summer house in the tiny hamlet of Barmouth, North Wales. Nearly 20 student leaders from St Ignatius College (Enfield), Stonyhurst College (Lancashire), Mount St Mary’s College (Sheffield), Wimbledon College, St Aloysius College (Glasgow), and Cardinal Griffin Catholic College (Cannock) attended. Fr Adrian Porter SJ hosted the conference and the talks alongside Fr Tim Byron SJ. Whilst at the conference, the students were taught in great depth about some of the key Ignatian values on the Jesuit student profile, such as discernment, attentiveness and compassion. The idea of personality types was extensively explored, and each student did a Myer-Briggs personality test to determine their own personality types. A wide range of different identities were represented, so it was especially helpful to be taught how to incorporate all of them in one single organised team. In addition to these in-depth discussions about the nature of leadership, the students were given an ample amount of free time to explore the beaches and streets of the historic Welsh town of Barmouth. At the end of the conference, the students used their newfound wisdom to create projects that will be implemented throughout their own schools.
The Jesuit Refugee Service in the UK (JRS UK) is calling on the government to end the use of indefinite detention, in light of new research showing high levels of vulnerable individuals in detention. Case studies compiled by JRS UK through its outreach work into immigration detention published in a report last week show systematic disregard by the Home Office of its own rules around protection of victims of trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. The report published by JRS UK chimes with the investigation carried out by The Guardian, revealed yesterday, showing that almost 56% of those surveyed were defined as an ‘adult at risk’. Such individuals are identified as being particularly vulnerable to harm and should only be detained in extreme cases. Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK, said “This research again reveals the cruelty of the detention system, and is a snapshot of a system which routinely incarcerates too many people for far too long. The widespread detention of vulnerable individuals, including the victims of trafficking and victims of torture is particularly egregious. But indefinite detention itself creates vulnerabilities in all who suffer its injustice.” Research published by JRS UK last week highlights the way that the Home Office’s own rules fail to protect those most in need because their vulnerability is weight against immigration factors with enforcement too often taking priority.  In the JRS UK briefing, it can be seen that even recognised victims of torture and trafficking continued to be held in detention, with the Home Office citing crimes they had committed as a result of their trafficking and the way they were illegally brought into the country against their will as reason to continue detaining them. Sarah Teather said “The reasoning given by the Home Office for continuing detaining victims of torture and trafficking is incredulous to say the least.  These are people who have been victimised by violent criminals and then found their experience held against them when it should have prompted sympathy and support.” The high numbers of vulnerable people being indefinitely detained highlighted by the Guardian last week shows a failure in the ‘adults at risk’ framework, which ultimately aims to shield people from being further traumatised as a result of indefinite detention. JRS UK believes that similar failings can be seen in the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a system that identifies and supports individuals as a victim of trafficking, or other forms of modern slavery. Whilst providing regular pastoral support to men detained at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centres (IRC), JRS UK has encountered a number of men who are survivors of modern slavery and trafficking. Between March 2017 and September 2018, JRS UK has supported 13 victims of trafficking in detention. Sarah Teather explains, “Our experience of supporting people in detention is that it has a crippling effect on individual well-being. Our volunteers routinely come across extremely vulnerable individuals whose conditions are made worse by the uncertainty and despair that surrounds them. Those who are the victims of trafficking are some of the most vulnerable people in society. Their subjection to further trauma within detention shows the complete lack of compassion and understanding on the part of the Home Office” In case studies compiled by JRS UK it has been found that there are a number of failings in referring individuals to the NRM, and, that when people are referred, the Home Office often rules that they are not victims of trafficking despite strong indications that they are. JRS UK has found on a number of occasions the Home Office continues to detain vulnerable adults because of their previous convictions, despite these convictions being linked to their trafficking. In the case of three individuals, all of whom had been identified as ‘Level 2 Adult at Risk’, the Home Office continued to detain them, citing their previous convictions meant the ‘negative immigration factors’ outweighed their vulnerabilities in detention. Sophie Cartwright, Policy Officer at JRS UK, says “Our research into the National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking has found that it is failing to protect highly vulnerable individuals who find themselves detained. The failure of the Home Office to release individuals despite high evidence to support their case shows a complete lack of care or conscience from the government.”