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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.
New report shows need to end hostile policies on asylum and build communities of hospitality, says Jesuit Refugee Service UK. A new report finds that asylum seekers in destitution and detention feel dehumanised by the asylum system but find strength through community membership, faith and volunteering. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK has responded by calling for an end to hostile environment policies and for the development of policies and social action to foster community, hospitality and participation. The report, For our welfare and not for our harm by leading Catholic theologian, Dr Anna Rowlands, analyses barriers to justice and dignity faced by destitute and detained asylum seekers from their own perspectives. It draws on interviews with asylum seekers at JRS UK, many of whom have also experienced detention, who have struggled to gain recognition as refugees and been destitute for years.  JRS UK staff and volunteers were also interviewed to inform the report. Refugees described the asylum system as one that “wastes time, skill, capacity and promise”, and makes them “feel worthless” and “like rubbish”. Some spoke of feeling as if they were “degrading in time” as they struggled with enforced destitution and idleness caused by the ban on being allowed to work. Others spoke about the traumatic impact of detention that continued to affect their lives, sometimes many years later. By contrast, refugees were clear about what they wanted to change, arguing for a more humane asylum system, with opportunities to work and participate in community. Sarah Teather, Director  of JRS UK, said: “This report lays bare an asylum system which erodes human dignity and wastes lives. It demonstrates the urgent need to end the hostile environment agenda and invest in a more humane approach, enabling people to work and participate in community. This requires deep, systemic transformation.” The report also highlights the importance of faith for maintaining and recovering agency and sense of self for many in the asylum process. It further explores the faith-basis of JRS and the particular way faith shapes its ethos of accompaniment and the importance of fostering participative community. Dr Anna Rowlands said: “Again and again refugees I interviewed told me about the importance of faith as a source of meaning, story, identity and resilience. But critically, refugees were makers of religious meaning and leaders of faith communities, not merely beneficiaries of well-meaning faith-based care and social action.” Refugees spoke powerfully of the importance to them of finding spaces where they can be active, assist and bring comfort to others, enlarge their own worldview through encountering the experience of others, and enable mutual perseverance. The research finds that asylum seekers involved with JRS UK particularly valued simple human aspects of the organisation’s practice, such as the way staff, volunteers and refugees eat meals at the same table, and the way refugees are greeted at the day centre by name. They spoke of the importance of finding spaces like JRS UK where they could volunteer and have their skills recognised and give support to others “using time in a fruitful way”. Sarah Teather said of the collaboration between JRS UK and Dr Anna Rowlands: “This research has deepened our understanding of refugees’ experience of the asylum process, exposing the pain of prolonged destitution in the asylum system, but has also given voice to the highly perceptive analysis of refugees themselves. We are particularly grateful for the insights this research has provided about the factors that give refugees strength and sense of agency. There were some surprises. We didn’t expect to find that eating together at the same table was so valued. This habit of shared meals each day has grown unselfconsciously out of our ethos of community and mutuality over many years. The research has enabled us to reflect on our own practice as a small faith-based organisation, and to deepen our commitment to our mission to accompany refugees.” Dr Rowlands said “… I was delighted to be invited to collaborate with JRS UK. JRS is doing vital work in attempting to create a space in which refugees are viewed not as hostile presences, nor merely recipients or guests of well-meaning others but dignified agents who want a space not only to survive and receive support but to engage in all the things that make us properly human. This is work not just of care but also of resistance and deep creativity in an often hostile and limited system.” DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT  http://jesuit.org.uk/sites/default/files/for_our_welfare_and_not_our_harm_jrs_june2019.pdf Dr Anna Rowlands is St Hilda Associate Professor in Catholic Social Thought and Practice at the University of Durham, UK. She is the founding chair of the UK Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice, which exists to network academics and practitioners who have an interest in Catholic social thought/practice.
Now in its fourth year, the 31 days campaign by the Jesuits in Britain is returning for our 2019 edition. This is a series of 31 daily emails delivered to subscribers each day and available from the spirituality website Pathways to God, leading up to the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, celebrated by the Jesuits and our friends all over the world. Since 2016, the initiative has helped people to get to know more about the Jesuits, their works, and Ignatian Spirituality. From introducing the audience to the many works around the country, to learning to pray in Ignatian ways: the positive feedback and the possibility of engagement coming through it has guided us in continuing the project. Among the comments received at the end of last year’s campaign, one of the subscribers told us that “It was lovely having something to follow, to share and keep the link for reference.” While another one wrote: “As a Jesuit, I have already been using this methodology, but it was wonderful to have it articulated clearly so that I could share it with various prayer groups.” This year, the focus will be on Finding God in All Things. Each week we will look at a theme from the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and use scripture and prayer to help you find God in moments of Conversion, Call, Challenge and Consolation. Each of four main subjects will be treated by four different writers. After seven meditations, there will be a more general reflection, offering further resources to ponder on the theme of the session, and looking back at our experiences and thought with the help of the Examen, a review prayer. The Scripture passages are taken from Nick King SJ’s bible translation, whereas the main image for 31 days 2019, a colourful portrait of St Ignatius, has generously been offered by the artist, John Bateson. This is a striking painting that beautifully fits with the desire to provide resources and spiritual nourishment to seek or rediscover God in our lives, no matter how varied and different they may look. The background of subscribers doesn’t matter, nor their level of familiarity with this type of reflections or prayer: we hope to attract subscribers in the hope to share rich material and prayer tools helpful for their own pathway to God. SUBSCRIBE to receive your 31 daily prayer emails