31 July 2018
Rome, 31 July 2018 – In 1551 St Ignatius of Loyola despatched eight Jesuits to the city of Ferrara to staff the new Jesuit college there. A few weeks after their arrival, the new rector of the college, Jean Pelletier, received a letter from Ignatius describing the Jesuit way of proceeding when considering how one should help one’s neighbour. St Ignatius made several specific suggestions, such as visiting prisoners in gaol, comforting the sick in hospitals, and so on. At the end he had this to say:
“Although many means of helping the neighbour and numerous pious works are proposed here, discretion will be your guide in the choice you must make, as I take for granted that you cannot do them all. You should always keep in mind the greater service of God, the common good, and the reputation of the Society.”
So much of the political rhetoric we hear about refugees is focused not on the greater but on the lesser. Refugees are painted as security threats, economic burdens, or cultural invaders; keeping them out, closing our borders, and building walls are all ways to diminish our responsibilities, narrow our horizons, and minimise our obligations to those less fortunate than we are. St Ignatius would tell us instead to act with the generosity of Jesus, who gave everything, including his own life, that others may have life, and have it to the full.
How often do we hear about the common good when refugees are talked about? It is tempting to retreat into a mindset that says we need to protect our own first, whether it be our family, or our fellow citizens, or our co-religionists. When St Ignatius appeals to the common good, he reminds us that morality is a kind of ecosystem: if we begin to exclude or marginalise the weakest and the most vulnerable, ostensibly to protect those closest to us, a kind of moral corruption creeps through our relationships and taints all our motivations.
As the gospel tells us, the question, “Who is my neighbour?” is just another clever way to limit my obligations; asking “Whom can I be a neighbour to?” broadens my ethical horizons and opens up the moral universe.
When Fr Pedro Arrupe founded JRS, he said that the refugees would bring great blessings to the Society of Jesus. If the Society desires to be mindful of its reputation and wants to count its blessings, it surely must do so according to these criteria: how is it a friend to the poor, how is it a servant to the needy, how is it a voice for the silenced? On this feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuit Refugee Service reaffirms our commitment to the exiled and the rejected of the world as we accompany, serve, and advocate the cause of refugees.
- Fr Aloyious Mowe, JRS International Director of Advocacy and Communications