On Tuesday Jesuit Refugee Service held its first carol service at Farm Street Church, led by Fr Provincial Damian Howard SJ. The church was packed for this joyful occasion - many of JRS' refugee friends had travelled long distances to join the many supporters and volunteers as well as Farm St regulars.
Highlights of the service were specially prepared contributions from performance groups who attend the JRS Day Centre Plus activities - initiatives designed to develop skills and confidence, offered in collaboration with partners. This year partners have included Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir (a regular feature at Farm Street Sunday evening Masses) and RISE Theatre.
Members of Soul Sanctuary and RISE Theatre have been working on a weekly basis with JRS' refugee friends over the last six weeks. The choir of twelve performed three numbers in skilful harmony including a Zulu hymn with audience participation.
Introducing the drama group, John Bosco of RISE Theatre explained that all the material had been devised by the performers and said, "it was an incredible honour and privilege to work with this group from JRS". The group used "Home" as a unifying theme to describe with great energy and passion their experiences and life stories through song and drama, relating them to the story of the homeless holy family. The performers spoke of Home being "freedom", "unconditional love", "forgiveness" and also "where the journey begins". Carine, who has been a friend of JRS for many years, said of the process of devising and performing "it was great fun, but also I learned that home is place where you have hope."
In his homily Fr Thomas H Smolich SJ, International Director of JRS, reflected on the statement of limitation: "yes, but", observing that this was a phrase refugees heard often, and that most of us use all too regularly. He invited the congregation to gaze upon the nativity scene and embrace the phrase "yes, and" - a phrase which sums up the limitless love of Christ, and His limitless welcome to all. This message is echoed in Pope Francis' New Year message for the 2018 World Day of Peace in which he says:
"In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands."
Concluding the service, JRS UK Director, Sarah Teather, said she was overwhelmed by the response to the event, in particular "the hugely generous way RISE Theatre and Soul Sanctuary have worked with us, and the amazing contributions of the staff, volunteers and our refugee friends."
After the service the congregation repaired to the church hall for seasonal refreshments.