Rome, 1 February 2018 – The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) works with refugees through a style that we call “accompaniment”: in our service to refugees, and our advocacy with them, we attempt to enter into the world of the refugees, “walking with them” as we often express it; and if we allow it we find that our own lives are radically transformed through that shared journey.
Some of the largest refugee populations in recent years have been Muslims, notably many of the Syrians fleeing that nation’s civil war, the Hazaras forced out of Afghanistan over many years, and the half million Rohingyas of Myanmar who crossed into Bangladesh after August 2017. In fact, some 70 percent of the refugees in the world today are Muslims.
Our accompaniment of Muslim refugees has taught JRS that their faith is a source of hope and resilience for many of them. At the same time, we recognise that their religious belief is also often the reason why they are driven away from their homes, and why they are turned away when they seek safety and opportunity.
JRS supports the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week (1-7 February) and its foundational message that love of God must lead to love of one’s neighbour, that love of the good must lead to love of one’s neighbour. Our accompaniment of refugees has led us to the conviction that our engagement with the religious faith of refugees needs to go beyond mere tolerance or respect; it is imperative that we engage with the believers and the leaders of the world’s religions, which have within them the potential to bring about a revolution of tenderness and compassion that could transform the way that the poor and the stranger, the refugee and the migrant, are viewed and treated.
In October 1965, 2221 bishops of the Catholic Church gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council voted in favour of Nostra Aetate, a document that offers the definitive teaching of the Church’s attitude towards non-Christian religions. In the section on Muslims, the bishops affirm that the Church has a high regard for Muslims; they call on all to forget the quarrels and hostilities of the past, and to work for mutual understanding; and they urge Christians and Muslims to work together to promote social justice, moral values, peace, and freedom.
In the wake of so much hostility towards Muslims in the world today, it may come as a surprise to some to know that the Catholic Church has a “high regard” for Muslims, as indeed it does for believers of other faiths, and that it sees these non-Christian believers as partners in the mission to bring about a more just and peaceful world. In the year ahead, JRS will be exploring more effective ways to engage with Muslims, and people of other faiths, as well as with faith-based organisations, to promote social cohesion and what Pope Francis calls “a culture of encounter”. Those of us who claim to love God cannot at the same time be indifferent to our neighbour, in particular the neighbour who is in need of protection, and who cries out for a place of welcome and safety in this world, our common home.