The desire to build together a community of life
Father General has called on us all to redouble our efforts to welcome those who suffer because of the need to migrate and to work together to build ‘a community of life’.
Speaking in Rome before the World Day of Refugees and Migrants (Sunday), Fr Arturo Sosa SJ was addressing refugees, volunteers and staff from the Centro Astalli, the headquarters of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Italy. He urged all who support refugees and migrants to put pressure on governments, especially in Europe, to create channels that will give safe and legal access to children and adolescents forced to abandon their homes, their countries and often even their families, in order that they can make a future elsewhere.
At the meeting at the Church of Gesù in Rome on Friday, Fr General said he was both happy and moved to have been able to listen to refugees’ testimonies and to share reflection and prayer with them. “This moment presents an important invitation to the Society of Jesus to accompany, with its few resources, and to share in the anxieties and hopes of the refugees here in Italy and everywhere in the world,” he said.
Fr General explained that he had personally experienced similar situations to the refugees who gave their testimonies on Friday, on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, where he lived for ten years before being called to Rome. “I met entire families that had been forced to abandon everything to save lives threatened by injustice and violence that has taken hold of our societies. I met children and young people who had been forced to become soldiers and to participate in wars so far away from their dreams, thoughts and desires.”
However, Fr General Sosa also spoke of people’s generosity - families who have welcomed as brothers and sisters people in search of a new life, as well as schools, teachers and Christian communities willing to lend a hand to those who arrive. He said it was necessary to promote citizens' movements that put pressure on States and the governments of Europe and other parts of the world to create safe and legal channels, especially for children and adolescents. “The absence of these channels adds new dangers to the path of migrants and increases the injustice suffered by those who have had to flee their homeland," he told the congregation at the Gesù. “The absence of adequate protection, the difficulty of access to humanitarian visas and efficient policies of social inclusion nourishes one of the greatest scourges of humanity in our times: human trafficking.”
Like pieces of wood that need to live
"It means a lot to me that Pope Francis decided to dedicate this day to refugee children" says Aziz, a 20-year-old refugee from Guinea. He had to leave his country when he was 16 years old, and travelled across Mali, then Niger, Libya and finally Italy. Aziz and other four young refugees from Afghanistan, Albania, Syria and Ethiopia shared their moving testimonies. All of them were minors when they arrived in Italy.
"My father was a wood carver in Aleppo; he was able to create wonderful objects from any shapeless pieces of wood. His job was to give shape to ideas. Today, we are like pieces of wood that need to come alive" says Mirvat, a refugee from Syria. The neighborhood where she spent her childhood no longer exists. "Those who destroyed Aleppo have also destroyed the dreams, the memories, the plans and the future of a whole generation of young people".
Fr General was greeted at the Gesù by Fr Camillo Ripamonti SJ, the President of the Centro Astalli, who reminded those gathered that the message of Pope Francis for this day focuses this year on child migrants. “The Pope points out that among migrants, the children are the most vulnerable group,” he said, “because … they are invisible and voiceless. And this reminds us of the need to protect them, to integrate them, and for them to be able to look to the future. Yes, dear Father Arturo, yet we continue to ignore this responsibility. We have not protected them; we have allowed them to die by their hundreds in the sea on long and dangerous crossings in the Mediterranean; and many of those who came got lost (in the) news, perhaps, and (have become) prisoners or victims of trafficking. But not only that: we are not even integrating as we should those who live with us.” He appealed for action at the international level, to work for the resolution of conflicts and serious investments in the development of the many young foreigners who need reasons for hope and seeds for a future of peace and reconciliation.
A message of peace and reconciliation
During the public event, ‘Refugee Youth: hope for a future of peace’, 20 refugees and migrants of various nationalities delivered a message of peace for the world that they had formulated in their original languages. Five boys and girls who had arrived in Italy as minors fleeing from Guinea, Afghanistan, Albania, Syria and Ethiopia shared their testimonies. And Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ was presented by refugees with an icon. Entitled 'foreigners and itinerant men', it depicts the three kings, the Magi who followed the star in search of the baby Jesus.
The gathering concluded with a Prayer for Refugees, in which Fr General prayed: “Today we are here united by the desire to build together a community of life. O God, feed this desire of ours. In our world, we have a desperate need of peace and reconciliation … We are aware that we need your imagination, Your creative, non-violent energy. Our languages are different and many and sometimes we do not understand those who are different from us, misinterpreting and distorting their words and gestures. Teach us the confidence that is at the beginning of every fruitful relationship and every walk of peace. We are here with all that we are: with the diversity of our religions and our cultures, with the fragility of our personal histories, our ways of doing and to share small companies of life. All we are is what we offer you.”
Fr General's address at the meeting 'Refugee Youth: hope for a future of peace' is available on the website of the Jesuit Curia in Rome. You can read more on the JRS website and more photos is available on the Centro Astalli website.