Pope Francis addressed the Jesuit Refugee Service on Saturday, at an audience to mark JRS' 35th anniversary. He told staff and friends of the agency that "the decision to be present in areas of greatest need, in conflict and post-conflict zones, has brought you international recognition for your closeness to people and your ability to learn from this how better to serve."
The Jesuit Refugee Service was founded in 1980 by the then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ. "He wanted the Jesuit Refugee Service to meet both the human and the spiritual needs of refugees," the Pope said on Saturday, "not only their immediate need of food and shelter, but also their need to see their human dignity respected, to be listened to and comforted."
Pope Francis used the opportunity of the private audience to formally recognise and pledge support for the JRS Global Education Initiative. This aims to extend JRS' educational programmes to 100,000 additional refugees by the year 2020. "Education affords young refugees a way to discover their true calling and to develop their potential," the Pope said. "Your [the JRS] initiative of Global Education, with its motto 'Mercy in Motion', will help you reach many other students who urgently need an education which can help keep them safe."
Pope Francis described education as a means for young refugees to discover their true calling and to develop their potential and expressed regret that many refugee children and young people do not receive a quality education - especially girls and in the case of secondary schools. He made special reference to JRS initiatives in Syria, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, he said, JRS works alongside "men and women of different religious beliefs who share your mission."
At the end of his address, Pope Francis thanked JRS' supporters and benefactors for their energy and support, as a result of which "the Lord's mercy will reach any number of children and their families in the future". He concluded by reminding his audience of Jesus' words: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Take these words with you always," he said, "so that they can bring you encouragement and consolation."
To coincide with JRS International's 35th anniversary, the Jesuit Refugee Service in the UK is launching its new website.
"We hope it will provide a stronger platform to advocate for the dignity and protection of refugees and forced migrants," explains Kate Monkhouse from JRS UK. "It will highlight our work to improve the conditions in which refugees and forced migrants find themselves in the UK. We will continue to share with you stories and reflections from our daily work of accompanying asylum seekers on our blog most weeks."
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