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Global: JRS International Director speaks on peripheries in our cities
30 November 2017

Fr Smolich SJ (right) with The Most Reverend Bernard Ntahoturi, Director of Anglican Centre of Rome, and Dr. Donna Orsuto, Director of the Lay Centre. (Cindy Bomben/Jesuit Refugee Service)
Download Fr Smolich's full speech here

Rome, 30 November 2017 – Last week, the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas welcomed Fr Thomas H Smolich SJ, the International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), for their final Vincent Pallotti Institute fall lecture. Fr Smolich’s talk focused on the “peripheries in our cities,” namely the urban refugees and migrants who live on the margins of society. His lecture invites us to find guidance in how we respond to these challenges by Ignatius’s experience of encountering Christ.

Here is a brief excerpt of Fr Smolich’s lecture. To read the full speech please click here.

Our response: Love ought to be shown more in deeds than in words.

So what might justice and welcome look like on our peripheries? To answer this, I invite us to remember the words of St. Ignatius towards the end of the Spiritual Exercises, Love ought to be shown more in deeds than in words. It is time for each of us, as society and as individuals to step up and put our justice and welcome in practice.

Several months ago, I participated in panel with Elizabeth Collett, the Director of the Migration Policy Institute in Brussels. Her great line: “We’ve had enough poetry about refugees; it’s time to put in the plumbing.” To paraphrase: we have more than enough words about refugees coming to Europe; it’s time to build the structures to welcome them. I would extend that to say, enough talk about refugees and homeless; it is time to fix the plumbing and welcome those on the peripheries.

Now I have to be honest and say that this part is easier for refugees. Pope Francis spoke of it in 2016, when he invited parishes and faith communities to sponsor one or two refugee families…not all 60 million. This has been happening around the world and especially across Europe.

Several years ago, JRS France started the Welcome Project, a structured program for people to welcome refugees into their home and come to know them as people. JRS Europe is now developing this Welcome Project throughout the continent, inviting all to find the way to open our hearts and homes.

Here in Rome, Pope Francis has put that into action, from offering showers to homeless people to the above-mentioned World Day of the Poor. I am aware of churches who offer food and clothing, the Missionaries of Charity who run a shelter, etc.

Taking Christ off the cross does not mean giving a euro to everyone who asks for it, nor opening borders to anyone who wants to arrive. But could it mean taking a mysticism of service seriously, orienting our seeing Christ in others toward social transformation?

Peripheries in our cities is a global reality, and as our brothers and sisters on the periphery have something to teach us. As Pope Francis said to a group of refugees at JRS’s Centro Astalli in Rome, “You really are a gift…You can be a bridge that unites distant peoples…a way to rediscover our common humanity.”

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Martina Bezzini