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Accompanying Refugees: Work Not without a Struggle
01 August 2010

"Accompanying asylum seekers and refugees is not always easy; this work is a daily encounter with great suffering and with our powerlessness to do much about it," says Katrine Camilleri, a Jesuit Refugee Service lawyer, with a Somali woman at an "open center" in Malta. (© 2007 Alexandra Pace/UNHCR)

Advocating the rights and needs of refugees is not a one-day job. Sometimes our contribution seems to accomplish nothing. Yet every step counts, however, small it may be. 

Pope Benedict XVI on his most recent visit to Malta in April echoed this when he stated, “I am…confident that, on the strength of its Christian roots and its long and proud history of welcoming strangers, that Malta will endeavor, with the support of other States and international organizations, to come to the aid of those who arrive here and to ensure that their rights be respected.”

Katrine Camilleri of Jesuit Refugee Service Malta, recipient of the 2007 Nansen Award from the United Nations High commissioner for Refugees, recognizes this all to well:

"Asylum seekers in Malta are detained for long months in very tough conditions. As a lawyer, I offer them information, advice and legal assistance and I lobby for improved protection procedures.

My work pitches me against the forces that shape government policy in the field of immigration. This has made me sharply aware of my powerlessness, that is, my true place in the larger scheme of things. It has brought home the painful realization that often there is little or nothing I can do to ease detainees’ suffering. This is hard to accept, so hard that at times I am tempted to give up, to turn away from the pain and to live more comfortably.

It may also be hard to accept that, like them [detainees], we are human and weak and we have our limitations: sometimes they want a savior, not support. 

Often, the only thing that keeps me going is the image of Mary at the foot of the cross. I am sure she must have been dying to tear Jesus off the cross, to do something for him, but she was helpless. The only thing she could do was to be there, so there she stayed, although it must have been the most difficult thing she ever had to do.

Like Mary, being there is often all I can offer, and I have realized that this presence is precious. More than that, it is a source of many blessings. Just as streams of living water flowed from the cross of Christ, the detainees have been a never-ending source of enrichment for me."

Scripture for reading

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. 

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. 

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. 

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything. 

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. 

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. 

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own. 

~ Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador