|Pope Francis greets refugees and others outside Centro Astalli, the Jesuit Refugee Service center for refugees in Rome in 2013. Photo Credit: Centro Astalli|
The Jesuit Way
by Karla Diaz, MNA
Growing up culturally Catholic, my childhood was filled with a significant amount of fear-based do’s and don’ts. Because of my stepfather’s natural distrust of religious institutions, I also grew up being very much aware of the Catholic church’s role in religious persecution and colonization. As an adult, attending a Jesuit University, I find myself reflecting on my role within the Catholic institution. I had the opportunity to partake in the AGI: Rome program this past intersession where I studied Refugee Crisis Management, along with colleagues from various schools within the School of Management.
While in Rome, the presence of Jesuit organizations was clear and significant. I could not help but think of the irony that many refugees are forced to migrate due to religious persecution, bigotry, xenophobia, nationalism and ethnocentrism yet the majority of the organizations that we had the opportunity to meet with were Jesuit, such as Jesuit Refugee Services and Centro Astalli. These organizations are providing vital services on the ground for refugees, despite their religious affiliation. In historical and present settings, religion has been at the root of many of global dilemmas. Religion has been used as a strategy for alternative motives for centuries. Within this irony, there is also evidence that religious institutions are providing much needed aid and are setting in where governments cannot or have failed. A 2015 study by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) took a look at religious organizations and their role in refugee services. The UNHCR found that, in the case of refugee management and support, religion is being used at the basis of social solidarity.
The Catholic Church has been vocal on its stance on migration and refugees. Domestically, the Catholic Church is lobbying through its Justice for Immigrants Initiative and is educating communities to create positive will for positive immigration reform through the Catholic Campaign for Immigrant Reform. Globally, with its first Jesuit Pope, the Catholic church has positioned itself as a key player in influencing public sentiment regarding refugees. As pointed out by Father Lydio F. Tomasi, C.S., Pope Francis is working to “…make the Catholic vision of morality more inclusive, credible, and responsive to conditions on the ground…” Through not only his vocal stance but his actions as well Pope Francis has directed his message towards the focus on human dignity and rights. He constantly reminds his congregation that Jesus Christ, himself was a refugee.
Although Pope Francis has received significant pushback from conservative Catholics, he continues to challenge them to step out of their comfort zones and practice true mercy. While in Rome, I had the opportunity hear Pope Francis speak. On Wednesday, January 10th, 2018, my colleagues and I attended his audience. It was a far more transformative experience than I had anticipated. It was inspiring to see so many people gather in peace and solidarity. I left his audience feeling hopeful that Pope Francis is leading the Catholic Church towards a more tolerant and socially active space. The AGI- Rome experience left me filled with gratitude and respect for the Jesuit organizations working tirelessly to reform policies and provide vital services despite facing challenges of their own. It even made realize how much of an honor it is to be a part of a Jesuit institution.