Communities of solidarity

Fr Fernando Azpiroz is the Director of Casa Ricci Social Services (CRSS) in China, supported by Jesuit Missions. CRSS serves over 5,000 people in China, standing in solidarity with both adults and children who are affected by leprosy or who are living with HIV/AIDS.

The accompaniment of people has always been a fundamental characteristic of all Jesuit ministries no matter where they are. Accompanying is a process of mutual transformation: we transform other people’s lives, and in return our lives are transformed by them. In this process of accompanying those who are suffering, Jesuits learn how to 'serve in poverty', and to identify themselves with Christ through the people they serve. "The closer we are to them, the deeper our identities are transformed" Fr Fernando says. 

In China, CRSS have been learning how to accompany people who suffer for more than thirty years. "Back in Christmas 2018, I had the pleasure to visit some of the different centres and communities," he describes. "Imitating the wise men in the Gospel who followed the Bethlehem star, I wanted to learn from the Joy shared by a poor baby born in a manger from poor parents and accompanied by poor people."

These communities are very simple places. Most of them are government places. At the heart of these communities are people who are suffering from different kinds of discrimination. They may be children or adults living with HIV/AIDS or people affected by leprosy, or sex workers, or AIDS patients critically ill receiving treatment in a hospital. Accompanying them, serving them and living with them are religious sisters and volunteers.

Together they form a community knitted by the bond of solidarity. They can have hundreds of people or formed by less than ten members. They may be located in very isolated places in the countryside, or in the middle of a big city. But in all of them, they share their lives and everything they have. Their sufferings and their struggles, their hopes and their joys. In many of them, they live in the same building and eat on the same table. They are called ‘communities of solidarity’.

These communities have become the Jesuits's way of serving and also their way of living. Their way of accompanying people and their way of learning how to heal the wounds that discrimination causes in each one of us, in others and in the whole society. "They have become places where we are transformed by learning the joy of practicing solidarity," Fr Fernando states.

Richard Greenwood, part of the Jesuit Missions team, said “I have seen first-hand the work that Fr Fernando and his team do with some of the forgotten people of China. I spent some time with a community of elderly people who are affected by leprosy. Their home was originally built by the government and is on the side of a hill, facing away from the town. The work of the Jesuits, religious sisters and volunteers, in addition to this home, has helped to restore dignity to the individuals living there. Many of the community are married or have children but are no longer visited by their families. However, the community ensures that they have a purpose and a place to which they belong.”

This article was first published on the 2019 Spring edition of Jesuits & Friends magazine.