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Center for Human Rights and International Justice

BC CHRIJ Convenes Consultation with Jesuit Refugee Service: Scholars and Practitioners Set Agenda for Ongoing Collaboration

October 2011 consultation key to advancing current initiatives

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On October 7-9, 2011 Boston College welcomed to campus international staff from Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) as well as university theologians and ethicists from several continents for “A Consultation on the Theological, Spiritual and Ethical Bases of the Work of Jesuit Refugee Service”.   The gathering was organized by BC Center for Human Rights and International Justice (CHRIJ) Director Professor David Hollenbach, SJ, and Research Professor Maryanne Loughry, RSM.  Sr. Loughry also serves as Associate Director of JRS Australia. 

The consultation, sponsored by the CHRIJ and in part by a grant from the Jesuit Institute of Boston College, sought to develop theological, spiritual, and Christian ethical resources that could assist JRS staff working in their ministry.  It also aimed to better understand how theology and the Jesuit vision shape JRS’s project delivery, planning and advocacy agenda.

The consultation provided an intimate space for the JRS staff members to tell the stories of the situations they witness daily in the field. The theologians in turn were nourished by what they heard from these staff members who serve and accompany refugees. CHRIJ Director David Hollenbach, SJ, said of the consultation, “It was a powerfully moving experience for all who participated.  My hope is that the longer term outcome will be sustained collaborative work between practitioners and academics that can be of real help to the millions of refugees in the world today.”

Fundamental questions were posed during the consultation. What does JRS’s Christian and Jesuit tradition mean in the modern-day situation where 70% of the refugees served are Muslim, quite different from the predominantly Catholic refugees served by JRS in Indochina in its early days?  How does JRS deal with advocacy questions when advocacy leads into the political realm?  How does the “JRS way” of accompaniment mesh with concepts of professionalism predominant in so many service organizations today?  How do JRS staff avoid loss of hope when faced with the continuing pain and suffering they witness daily in their work?

Reflecting on these questions, the participants set as a goal the creation of new resources for reflection and training of personnel, to be done in French, Spanish and English, that can be made readily available to JRS staff worldwide.  These resources will seek to support JRS personnel in the spiritual and practical issues that they face every day.  The theologians will write papers on some of these issues that will be made available to the wider public through the JRS International website as a resource for approaching the theological, spiritual and ethical challenges raised during the consultation.

The consultation was part of a larger ongoing collaboration between the CHRIJ and JRS.  The collaboration also presently includes research into the burgeoning urban refugee phenomenon and how JRS should best respond to it.  This research, led by Sr. Loughry and Assistant Professor Tom Crea, has begun with a collaborative project with the JRS program in South Africa as a starting point.  Past work of the CHRIJ with JRS has led to the publication of two books, Refugee Rights: Ethics, Advocacy, and Africa and Driven from Home: Protecting the Rights of Forced Migrants, both edited by Fr. Hollenbach.