Refugees in a time of pandemic - a talk by Sarah Teather

Sarah Teather, Director of JRS-UK
Sarah Teather, Director of JRS-UK

Sarah Teather’s talk at the Lauriston Jesuit Centre began with words from Pope Francis that we are called to see the face of Christ who pleads with us for help among those who are fleeing or suffering.

She gave us the opportunity for an encounter with this suffering, to understand something of lives which were already incredibly precarious before the outbreak of coronavirus, but which were then transformed to complete crisis. Those people, surviving by moving between the homes of various acquaintances by night, or sleeping on night-buses, and spending time at day centres and libraries in public libraries in waking hours, having all their options removed by the virus, a virus to which as largely black or minority ethnic people they are statistically far more vulnerable. Lockdown meant ways of communication and access to food also vastly depleted, and a challenge for the JRS to reach people at all.

Yet in this crisis Sarah managed to convey a sense of hope that did arise, that the organisation was able to lean on the element of their constitution which reminds them to affirm the existence of God in circumstances of hardship. God seemed to have appeared in both remarkable creativity and remarkable generosity among staff, volunteers and service users themselves, as large donations of food could be distributed and gradually technology allowed prayer groups and other online community projects to continue.

However, while we were touched and encouraged by stories of Muslim staff helping elderly sisters to operate zoom calls, Sarah rightly pointed out she was not speaking to comfort or reassure us , she urged us not to forget people’s pain, to be ashamed. She demonstrated the tension for Christians between being people of hope and people of justice, giving us glimpses of the power of the resurrection among who persevere doggedly and creatively amidst massive challenges, but also witnessing to the truth of the very grave suffering of these humans receiving inhumane and brutal treatment in our society, helping us to hear Christ’s cry to us from within it.