Religious finding new ways of assisting JRS during pandemic

Image: JRS

Image: JRS

Source: CoR

A committed group of Religious who work with the Jesuit Refugee Service in East London are continuing their help to the destitute amid the coronavirus crisis. Several of those who usually volunteer at the day centre in Wapping have found new methods of helping; they're telephoning around to get information to support deliveries of essential supplies by a newly established Emergency Response Team.

In addition, the weekly women's prayer group at the JRS centre has begun again via zoom teleconferencing, with a couple of Religious facilitating it. Also, many of the Religious are taking part in a new morning prayer call that JRS has started since the outbreak.

JRS is keen to invite other Religious to get involved with the vital work they do with refugees and migrants.

Below are some thoughts from Religious already involved in the day centre:

Ursuline Sr Vianney Connolly

Sr Ursula's community has hosted refugees in their home.

What does it mean to bring this work with refugees at JRS UK into your ministry?

"Hosting JRS UK guests (women who are destitute as they wait and wait for their Asylum claim to be accepted) was a blessing to our community. We provided a home and safety for five women. It enabled us "to share our bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor."

What do you think you bring to the work? And what do you take away from it?

Visiting the women detained at Heathrow, I hopefully bring to these women from all over the world, whose ages range from 20-60 years, a chance to unload their burdens. As almost all have faith of some kind I try to help them become aware of another presence sharing this dark time with them. An offer of carrying their needs in prayer is almost always welcomed.

What I take from it is sometimes frustration because language has been a barrier to communication. Most times I leave with joy from my encounters with so many beautiful people. I feel enriched, and humbled that they have trusted the secrets of their lives to me.

Why did you choose this work particularly? Why do you think it matters and is important?

I chose visiting after hearing a talk from JRS. Being technically "retired" I had time to give to others and was aware of Pope Francis urging us Religious to "Go out, Go out"... I think this JRS work matters because it means that if I go to Heathrow, Christ has another way of presence there. As a branch of the vine, Christ reaches out to the women through me. This energises me and gives me courage.

Sr Rose Mary Harbinson RNDM

To work with those detained is a privilege. When these men share their story it is humblig and a realisation that this world suffers in so many ways unknown to many.

What I bring to the work: Myself: - my own vulnerability and frustration when I don't have the answers and the ability to give solace to these often broken men. However, I try to hear and accompany them when they share and explore every avenue to get some sense of freedom and control of their lives. My positivity and listening often gives them a chance to believe!

I choose this work with JRS because I accompanied one of our domestics held in detention at Yarl's Wood and was horrified to see how she was treated and approached JRS for help and advice and knew immediately this was a calling to journey, even voluntarily, with such broken people.

It is a very important ministry in our Church and world today. Many people are displaced for various reasons and seeking a home somewhere in the world. JRS opens its arms and heart to those who are neglected and unknown to many. Their service, advocacy and accompaniment means that vulnerable human beings are recognised and important; even if unsuccessful in gaining asylum, they are recognised as individual persons (God's work of art) who are loved and given a dignity by JRS in their shared journey and quest for freedom and peace.

Servite, Sr Rachel O'Riordan:

Taking as our inspiration Mary, at the foot of the cross, and governed by the charism of compassion embodied in our Constitutions I sought a ministry which might enlarge my vision and give me a better understanding of what was meant by accompaniment. It turned out that the journey of accompanying a refugee friend is both a unique privilege and a voyage of discovery. Marvelling at their resilience in the midst of so many 'setbacks' I find myself increasingly grateful for the blessings of my own life.

Above all else, I hope that I bring to the ministry a listening non-judgemental ear, free from prejudice and opinions. I try to respect the point our friends have reached on their journey and not to ask questions but simply to allow a relationship to develop built on consistency and mutual respect. In a book written by Sister Joyce Rupp, she writes ...'Bless the words in me waiting to be and abide in my words so that others will feel safe in my presence'. I would like to hope that those whom I encounter at JRS experience something of this when we converse.

I make my journey home in a spirit of reflective gratitude. Based not purely on my own good fortune but in the recognition demonstrated over and over how despite hardships and disappointment the human spirit can thrive and flourish. This is achieved at JRS because our refugee friends can meet in a safe and sacred space. They do not seek advice (except from those qualified to give it) but seek instead a place where they can rest awhile, a place where love abounds, where friendships are valued, and confidences are kept.

It matters that in an increasingly xenophobic society JRS should continue to demonstrate those values of inclusivity and welcome. Refugees are often treated with hostility and anger and of course, it is a risk to 'stand up and stand out' but if JRS doesn't do it, then who will?

Sr Angela Murphy:

I am a member of the Congregation of the Religious Sisters of Charity. Our Foundress, Mary Aikenhead, was born in 1787 in Cork, Ireland. In 1815 she founded the Religious Sisters of Charity as a direct response to the poverty she saw all around her. Her motto: Caritas Christi Urget Nos, the Love of Christ urges us on. (2 Cor. 5:14) is very much alive today. We also follow Ignatian Spirituality and our Charism, Service of the Poor.

My fourth Vow of Service of the Poor is an expression of Social Justice which I bring to my work as a Volunteer at JRS, UK, always engaging in advocacy, action and prayer for our friends the Refugees. Linking and networking with Staff, Volunteers and Refugees, with others in our quest for Social Justice, peace and the integrity of each person.

I am humbled to accompany our friends on their journey. They remain positive in time of trial; keep their dignity in spite of many hardships, ill heath, disappointments, and refusal after refusal, lack of shelter and very often the basics for life. I have heard many stories of survival, torture and trauma. I have seen depression turn to despair and physical health start to deteriorate yet it is wonderful to see the support JRS gives to our friends.

I have signed and respect the Core Values at JRS and the Mission Statement to accompany, serve and advocate.

Sr Margaret Muldoon, a Sister of the Holy Family of Bordeaux.

Sister Margaret Muldoon is a day centre volunteer, doing phone support at the moment

What does it mean to bring this work with refugees at JRS UK into your ministry?

At an international level we have taken the option to "be with" people "on the move" and this has become an important part of our ministry at local level, with special attention given to refugees, displaced persons, homeless and others "on the margins". JRS is one of the groups we collaborate closely with. It is a well organised faith group that puts the emphasis on welcome, hospitality, accompaniment and advocating and has diverse ways of supporting asylum seekers. Respecting their dignity, they provide a place where they can feel "at home," where they are treated as "friends "and where they can receive support and help.

There is also the possibility to provide accommodation in our communities to homeless women refugees, an opportunity which we avail of and which we find enriching and rewarding. Accompaniment and support of host communities and families is given by JRS.

What do you think you bring to the work?

Conviction that this is a priority for ministry in the reality of today; supported by the options of our Congregation; experience of internationality and encounters with diverse cultures. The call to a Gospel response in line with our Charism and spirituality. The inspiration of Pope Francis and his constant challenge to be on the side of the marginalised, in his words it is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society. That is why it is not just about migrants. When we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone; in taking care of them, we all grow; in listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves that we may keep hidden because it is not well regarded nowadays. (World day of refugees and migrants 2019)

And what do you take away from it?

I take away so much. The experience of encountering women and men who have lost everything and have nothing and yet live with such hope and gratitude is spite of the enormous challenges they face. Their capacity to endure rejection, insecurity, destitution and yet continue to face each day with trust and even smiles; their ability to reach out to others in similar situations and to relate to the staff and volunteers at the Centre. Their unwavering faith in their God. It challenges my life, invites me to an awareness and appreciation of all that I have. These are my sisters and brothers and my encounters with them enable me to be aware of the unjust and disrespectful way people "on the margins" are treated and the prejudices, discrimination and false information that circulates in the media and elsewhere. In the midst of consumerism and all the other "isms" of our society, I am challenged to an awareness of how I may contribute to this reality and of the call to witness to an alternative gospel response. The challenge is also to find meaning in the midst of the pain and struggle of the people on the margins and to accompany them with love, understanding and compassion. To find the moments of grace in our journeying with them and to be open to the glimpses of insight and transformation that are there when we keep our hearts open. Perhaps the words of the poet, Mary Oliver, speak here: "I tell you this to break your heart, to break your heart open, that it never again be closed to the world."

And Pope Francis: ""Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love… to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others."

Anything else?

I would like to add that it is very life-giving, rewarding and enjoyable to work with staff and volunteers who are open, friendly and committed to this service. There are also opportunities for support and on-going training in issues related to the work.

Comments from Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart:

What does it mean to bring this work with refugees at JRS into your ministry?

This work is a culmination of years of living in a neighbourhood community in a four bedroomed house where refugees and people in these situations have been part of our lives for 30 years. Our ministries have involved teaching ESOL and volunteering in a refugee project in the borough as well as other refugee concerns that have presented themselves.

What do you bring to the work and what do you take away from it?

We bring the gospel of love, concern and compassion in some small way to people in set their time of need. Doing this Hosting is helping us to be more flexible and open both practically and in our attitude to those who live with us. We share our kitchen and facilities equally as well as giving them a room.

We are learning to have greater respect for people and their aspirations. We like it that now we know the people personally rather meeting a more distant and unconnected set of people as in a refugee centre etc. We are also appreciative of the clear directives in JRS. It gives us great support at times when emotions could become entangled.

Why did you choose this work particularly? Why do you think it matters and is important?

We found ourselves with a spare room which is more accessible to a younger person and because we've had so much contact with such people over the years and, knowing the difficulties of failed asylum seekers, we felt we could offer and share our abundant resources. And so Hosting is something we feel we can do but it has to be as a community and therefor would need to be taken into account should anyone else join the community.



Conference of Religious -

Tags: JRS, Jesuit Refugee Services, Conference of Religious, CoR, Refugees

We Need Your Support

ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.

Please support our journalism by donating today.