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People from all over the world piled into Farm Street Church for the annual advent service of Jesuit Refugee Service UK. Staff, volunteers, supporters and their refugee friends came together to hear readings in Mandarin and French and a host of favourite carols. In his homily, Bishop Paul McAleenan reminded those present that Christmas was an important time to respond to cries for justice. JRS UK Director, Sarah Teather, looked back on some of the key achievements of the year, including the setting up of a new in-house legal team and coordinated activities and events offered by the JRS Wapping Day Centre which include art workshops and cookery sessions. Commenting on the service, Sarah said: “We were thrilled to have a full Church, including many refugees, who led much of the service as readers and performers and exhibited their artwork at the reception afterwards. Christmas can be a lonely time for anyone who is separated from family. It is also a gruelling period for those who face hunger and street homelessness. In the weeks before Christmas we try to create space for community, joy and friendship alongside delicious festive meals and gifts of warm clothes.  We rely on the help of volunteers and donors to make it possible to support refugee friends in this way.” The JRS UK Drama Group presented a powerful and compelling piece in partnership with RISE Theatre that captured the interminable journeys of refugees: weary travellers waited expectantly for the next train only to find it had been cancelled with no further trains expected. Left frustrated with no easy path to take, a mysterious voice over a tannoy invited them on a train journey of a lifetime. Even in their waiting, we see the passengers joyful and full of hope - at one point, the actors standing together like something from a Titian altarpiece. After the service, the joy from the church overflowed into the parish hall where the ground floor walls were decked with paintings of the JRS UK Art Exhibition. The artists exuberantly explaining the deeper meaning of their works that depicted a moving mixture of homelands, journeys, dreams and aspirations.
Opening up access for retreats at St Beuno’s. For the last year, St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales has been covered in scaffolding as part of the redevelopment of the retreat house. Last week saw the first fruits of this work with the opening of the new entrance hall by the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Britain, Fr Damian Howard SJ. The newly-opened entrance was actually the original entrance to St Beuno’s when the house was built in 1848 for Jesuits studying theology. But in living memory, entry to the house has been from the courtyard on the other side of the building. As well as giving a much better sense of ‘arrival’ to St Beuno’s, the new entrance provides much-improved disabled access that will allow more people to attend retreats and other events. So far, the redevelopment has seen repair work to the chapel and the South Wing and included the construction of a new boiler house. Next year will see the construction of four disabled-access bedrooms, a large meeting room on the site of the old boiler house, new kitchens, and a new entrance to the chapel from the current kitchen corridor. Thankfully, the centre has not had to close down during this disruption, with retreatants showing remarkable patience and understanding. As one said: “It shows care and that there is a future, so really these are signs of love and hope”. Architect, Rob Chambers, Llion Scott (surveyor), and builders T.G. Williams, were all present at the ceremony together with the interior designers, Simon Knox and Helen Lewis, as well as the workmen, the St Beuno’s team and some of the retreatants.
JRS responds to new parliamentary report on the safety of migrants and asylum seekers. On Monday MPs published a report indicting the UK’s excessive focus on border security, leading Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) to once again call for safe and legal routes to migrate and seek asylum. The report, compiled by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, says that “A policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.” It comes in the wake of the tragic deaths of 39 people whose bodies were found in a lorry container in Essex last month.  Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said: “This report is further evidence of the harm caused by a migration policy obsessed with making movement as difficult as possible. A new approach, which makes it easier for people to move when they need to and truly prioritises the protection of human life, is urgently required.” The Foreign Affairs Select Committee called for the government to establish more pathways to seek asylum from outside of Europe, and to encourage other European countries to do likewise, echoing longstanding calls for safe and legal routes from the Jesuit Refugee Service. JRS in Europe is involved in advocating for humanitarian visas for those seeking sanctuary. Sarah Teather commented on this recommendation: “We welcome the call for more pathways to seek asylum from outside of Europe. At JRS UK, we work with Vietnamese victims of trafficking. They were vulnerable to traffickers because there were no regular routes by which they could migrate. Many asylum seekers we serve have also been forced to make dangerous journeys, because the alternative was certain death if they stayed where they were. This will continue for as long as governments in safe countries cut off routes to reach them.” For more information about the Jesuit Refugee Service in the UK, please visit https://www.jrsuk.net/
Northern European inter-novitiate meeting in Birmingham. Manresa House hosted the French and German Novitiates, including their novice masters, Thierry and Thomas from 2nd to 9th August. The time together was well prepared practically, thanks especially to Brother Mick O’Connor SJ, and spiritually and creatively through stages of the Emmaus journey in Luke. The participants soon grew into a single community. On Saturday morning Archbishop Bernard Longley arrived with Anglican Bishop David Urquhart, a near neighbour and friend. Their dialogue in answer to the novices’ questions showed how close they were in ministry and awareness of the needs of their extensive dioceses. The afternoon was spent walking in the city centre, visiting the two cathedrals, getting in touch with the Composition of Place. Sunday was a day of reflection stimulatingly led by Father Frank Janin SJ, President of the Conference of European Provincials. He led the group in smaller parties for the discernment process on the Universal Apostolic preferences. The evening was dedicated to the ministry of the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials, a great example of how apostolates can be bonded together in partnership. On the following day, Thiranjala Weerasinghe nSJ, novice from Sri Lanka, explored writings of St Peter Favre SJ and Letters of Tribulation of Fr Lorenzo Ricci SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus at the time of the Suppression, for the prayer and group reflection. In the afternoon, Father Michael Barnes SJ spoke from his research and years of personal experience on the principles of interfaith relations. He gave an example of an epic on the life of Jesus in an Indian language along with the narrative style of the sixteenth century English Jesuit, Thomas Stephens SJ. This was an early example of communicating faith in another culture. Interfaith These latest sessions prepared the group for a long and rich interfaith day, in Smethwick, a strongly Asian area. It started by being greeted by the Deputy Mayor of Sandwell (on a long railway bridge built by Telford in the early nineteenth century). They enjoyed then a real Application of the Senses in an Alladin’s Cave of a shop run by a Sikh who was Chair of the National Society of Retail Businesses. “My general store”, he said, “is not just for buying things but for people to chat and meet with each other”. Following this, it cannot be forgotten the hospitality of prayer and a meal in the nearby Sikh Gurdwara and in the Anglican Holy Trinity Church as well as a visit to the Abrahamic Centre down the road. The tour ended with sharing Evensong in the Anglican church. There was a lot to assimilate in personal prayer, and Wednesday morning was devoted to this. In the afternoon the group listened to a dialogue between chaplains of different faiths in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where some of the novices have pastoral work each Friday. The Catholic Chaplain, a former married Anglican priest with several children, gave a moving account of his journey to his present ministry. The final day was spent in groups recognizing, interpreting and articulating the experiences of a very full week. Tony Nye SJ, who participated in the meeting, commented: “we all needed our Barmouth holiday after that, joined by a number of the French novices for the first week, keeping up our close-knit community.”
On Saturday 27th July, refugees and team from JRS UK attended an interactive exhibition at St Paul’s Cathedral that showcased some of their work. In June, 10 of our refugee friends attended a Silk Painting workshop at JRS UK's centre in Wapping. The workshop focused on ways to depict sacred spaces using silk painting. The activity was facilitated by Stitches in Time, an arts charity working with different community groups in Tower Hamlets. They were collaborating with St Paul’s Cathedral to organise the exhibition, which also included hands-on craft activities during the day. Through sharing ideas, participants combined their work to construct a textile sacred space within St Paul’s Cathedral. The focus was on gathering, reflection and making. During the exhibition, all those who attended were encouraged to weave a few pieces of fabric together to ultimately be woven into a larger, integrated rug, fostering a greater sense of community development and solidarity. Tickets to the exhibition for the general public granted our refugee friends entry to the whole site of St Paul’s, giving them the opportunity to explore the cathedral. Many of our friends commented on the crypt, and spent hours learning about the famous tombs and religious works of art. At 6pm, the Choral Evensong began. One of the member of the group said: “I stayed at St Pauls for Evensong and spent some time in the space. It was thanks to this opportunity that I now know that I can go there.” Weaving at St Paul's The exhibition was not just about different community groups coming together to see their work and participate in activities, but it also gave them a chance to relish in a sacred space, to explore and feel part of London life. The exhibition gave our friends the freedom to learn and uphold some of the wonders dwelling within the walls of St Pauls, offering them time and a chance to develop and reflect on their own faith.at St Paul's At JRS UK, the refugee-led activities focus on improving skills, confidence, health and well-being by locating the skills, interests and desires of refugees at the centre of the planning process. In line with the centre's mission to walk alongside forced migrants, these projects are an essential ingredient of JRS's service. They are based on the belief that encounter, mutual relationship and community are fundamental to human integrity and development. The arts projects are both fun and practical ways to help those made destitute by hostile environment policies. They encourage personal growth and confidence, and grant our refugee friends the opportunity to learn new skills and the principles of leadership.
On the edge of Clapham Common, the Jesuit house there is now dedicated to welcoming young adults and helping them to engage in caring for our common home, following the teaching of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’. It is a fairly new project, since the house became available only last summer, and the community was completed only mid-September 2018 with the arrival of Ruth Holgate to join Fr Jim Conway SJ and Fr Dushan Croos SJ. It is like a germinating seed: at the moment it is only a little sprout, but the hope is that it will grow steadily into a larger plant. That involves good soil, sunlight, the right amount of water and patience. The team has been preparing the soil by getting to know the young adults in and around London with whom Jesuits are already in contact. The have done that through the Young Adult Sunday Mass at Farm Street, through the Faith in Politics internship of the Bishops’ Conference, and through those who seek the Jesuits out because they are alumni of colleges or chaplaincies. As Rith, Fr Jim and Fr Dushan meet them, a community is formed, which can pray and reflect on the action that is called from us. The sunlight is provided by familiarising ourselves with the pope’s letter, and by developing a background understanding of the spiritual ecology, human ecology and natural ecology which he outlines, by inviting reconciliation with God, with our neighbour and with our common home. They have done this through ‘Exploring Laudato Si’’ days at Clapham. Among the speakers so far have been Professor Celia Deane-Drummond, Jesuits, religious and young adults already engaged in this work. The community has also greatly profited from reading ‘The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si’’ by Fr Joshtrom Kureethadam SDB, a theologian at the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development. The water is provided by the conversations about this topic that arise through the various meetings. For example, Fr Jim’s experience at Lethem, Guyana, in the Amazon, has helped the community to engage with this autumn’s Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, particularly through the visit to London of Mr Mauricio López of REPAM, the PanAmazonian Ecclesial Network. The team has met young adults, whose desire to engage others has incited them to form an Ecological Conversion Group (theecg.org), which speaks to parishes and confirmation groups about the pope’s call to ecological conversion. It is known that overwatering plants can kill them, so th also need to filter the information about ecology we receive so that we are not drowned by it. These are only beginnings, sproutings, which we are trying to cultivate patiently, by providing a structure on which this plant can grow and bear fruit. Forced cultivation of crops using artificial fertilizer in greenhouses produces weak, tasteless fruit, incapable of reproducing and spreading naturally. "Instead, we hope to produce fruit that renews the experience of eating homegrown tomatoes in a salad during a Sicilian holiday, which left me thinking I’d never before tasted a real tomato!" Fr Dushan comments.