Skip to main content

Jesuits of America take courageous and unequivocal stand on behalf of refugees, migrants and excluded

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
These are tumultuous times for the United States and in fact, for a good part of the world. President Donald Trump is being true to his campaign promises. In just about ten days after his inauguration, he has signed several controversial executive orders. These include, imposing a 120-day suspension of the refugee programme and a 90-day ban on travel to the US from citizens of seven countries which are regarded as ‘terror hotspots’: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.
Additionally, there are orders to build a US-Mexico border wall, to publish a weekly list of ‘criminal actions by aliens’ in Sanctuary Cities (besides stripping these cities of federal funding), and to ramp up immigration enforcement and deportation efforts.
These orders have naturally polarized several sections of society, besides generating massive protests in the US and elsewhere. Civil society and institutions committed to human rights, justice, freedom and peace, find these orders illegal, cruel and misguided.
The Jesuits of America have not lost time in taking a courageous and unequivocal stand on behalf of the refugees, the migrants and the excluded.
As early as November 17, 2016 ( just a week after the results of the Presidential Elections), Fr Leo J. O’Donovan, sj , the Executive Director, of the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA,set the tone and spirit, with a letter addressed to ‘Friends and Fellow Americans’ saying:
 “How shall JRS/USA respond to this situation? How shall we respond to the spectre of fear, selfishness, and lack of compassion that appears before us? First, let me say clearly that the divisive election campaign and its surprising outcome can only serve to reinforce JRS’s commitment to our mission to accompany, serve, and defend the rights of refugees in the United States and throughout the world. This commitment is absolute. It stands on the foundation of the teachings of the Church that we are all equally children of God and are related to each other in equal dignity as one family. In this context, our commitment to support and to speak out for the most vulnerable people, giving comfort, companionship and education to those otherwise forgotten and bringing the voice of the voiceless to the seats of power is unshakeable. It is in fact even more important at this uncertain time”.
Fr O’Donovan followed that path-breaking letter with an ‘Open Letter’ addressed to President Trump on the day of his inauguration (January 20, 2017), emphatically stating:
“Our country's welcome of these newcomers expresses who we are as a people. It is a sign of our commitment to the rights of refugees to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. It reflects our desire to respond to the call of the Jewish and Christian scriptures to welcome strangers among us, especially those in danger or great need. It is rooted in the recognition that all men and women possess a shared human dignity and, in the eyes of faith, are sons and daughters of a loving Creator who calls us together as one human family”. 
The letter was also a challenge:
“Mr. President, the generosity of the United States in response to the needs of refugees is a source of our reputation as "the last best hope of humankind" and expresses our highest moral values”; with a final appeal, “when you consider actions you might take to fulfil your promise to make America great again, remember the greatness of heart that is at the foundation of just and humane U.S. refugee assistance. Our nation and our world look to you for a magnanimous response to those who have been forced from their homes”.
Jesuits run several Universities in the US, which include some of the most prestigious ones. In the wake of these executive orders the Presidents of almost all these Universities, have issued powerful statements reiterating their commitment to Gospel values, Jesuit identity, human rights and to a welcoming, inclusive and diverse American society.
The President of Georgetown University for one, states:
“Our Catholic and Jesuit identity provides the foundation for our lives together. Guided by our mission, we have placed a special emphasis on interreligious dialogue and our openness to different faith traditions and cultures. This includes our efforts to support a diverse and vibrant Muslim community on campus."
The Boston College President is categorical,
 “The order is also contrary to American understandings of this nation’s role as a refuge and its place as a society that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or national origin." 
Whereas Marquette University reaffirms:
“More than 135 years ago, Marquette University served a booming German population that fled failed revolutions in Europe and came to America in search of democracy and human rights. Today our Catholic and Jesuit tradition calls us to speak out. We stand with our international students and any other student whose family is impacted by this evolving situation."
The statement from the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S. minced no words: “As members of a global religious order that works to form men and women of conscience and compassion, we denounce the Trump Administration’s Executive Order suspending and barring refugees and banning nationals of seven countries as an affront to our mission and an assault on American and Christian values….. We will continue that work, defending and standing in solidarity with all children of God, whether Muslim or Christian. 
"The world is deeply troubled, and many of our brothers and sisters are justifiably terrified. Our Catholic and Jesuit identity calls us to welcome the stranger and to approach different faith traditions and cultures with openness and understanding. We must not give in to fear. We must continue to defend human rights and religious liberty. As Pope Francis said, ‘You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian.’”
Jesuits in America are certainly not the only ones speaking out against these orders. Several others are doing so from across the board: church and other religious leaders, academics and intellectuals, lawyers and civil rights activists, corporate leaders and ordinary citizens – there is without doubt a groundswell of protest. 
The Jesuit response has been consistent with their faith- justice mandate. An added motivation for the Jesuit stand, could also be from their recent General Congregation 36, which emphatically states in the first Decree:
“The letter of Father General, Adolfo Nicol├ís on reconciliation and the teaching of Pope Francis have given this vision greater depth, placing faith, justice, and solidarity with the poor and the excluded as central elements of the mission of reconciliation. Rather than ask what we should do, we seek to understand how God invites us and so many people of goodwill-to share in that great work.”
On the displacement of peoples (refugees, migrants, and internally displaced peoples), it says:
"In the face of attitudes hostile to these displaced persons, our faith invites the Society to promote everywhere a more generous culture of hospitality. The Congregation recognizes the necessity of promoting the international articulation of our service to migrants and refugees, finding ways of collaboration with JRS. What impact will the stand of the American Jesuits have on these orders is anyone’s guess. 
"Some of Trumps key personnel are Jesuit alumni, besides there are many others who wear their Christian label on their sleeve. Will their hearts melt? Will their consciences be pricked? Will they climb down from this unchristian position? Tough questions to answer but the world wants to know. On the other hand, will the Jesuits now have to face consequences and other repercussions?" 
The American Jesuits and their collaborators however, through their committed and courageous stand, have given America and the world, particularly the refugees, migrants and the excluded, a wholehearted assurance: “come what may, we stand by you!”
A new hope! An example worthy of emulation by others everywhere: Jesuits and non-Jesuits alike!
---
*Indian human rights activist, currently based in Lebanon, with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications

Comments

TRENDING

Whistle-blowing IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt's wife suspects foul play after truck hits her car

By Nachiketa Desai*
Paranoia has seized Shweta Bhatt, wife of suspended Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt, after the car she was driving was rammed in broad day light. According to Shweta Bhatt, it was beacon light-flashing truck without registration number plate. The incident took place on January 7, just a day ahead of the Gujarat High Court was scheduled to take up the bail application of Sanjiv Bhatt, arrested last year for "involvement" in a 23-year-old case.

Call to support IIM-Bangalore professor, censured for seeking action against Uniliver

Counterview Desk
Sections of the Indian Institute of Managements (IIMs) across India have strongly reacted to the decision to censure Dr Deepak Malghan, a faulty at IIM-Bangalore. Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil, who is faculty at IIM-Tiruchirapalli, has sought wider solidarity with Dr Malghan, saying, "The administration has censured Deepak for merely suggesting a meaningful action against Hindustan Unilever for their abysmal environmental record" by “disinviting” it for campus placement.

99% MGNREGA funds "exhausted", Govt of India makes no additional sanctions: Study

Counterview Desk
A letter, addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and prepared by senior activists led by Aruna Roy on behalf of the Peoples’ Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG), and signed, among others, by 80 members of Parliament, has regretted that, despite repeated public statements by his government promising employment and job creation that will boost the country’s growth, the country’s only employment guarantee programme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), “is being systematically undermined.”

Morari Bapu, who has installed new statues of Ram, Laxman, Hanuman without weapons

By Sandeep Pandey*
A saint is one who can give some inner peace by his/her voice. This will happen only when s(he) will talk about love and harmony. Morari Bapu is one saint who has been conveying the message of love, peace, harmony, fraternity, etc. Today when a number of saffron clad figures with aggressive posture, spewing venom, fanning hatred to polarise voters are at the forefront of politics of Hindutva it is a relief to see Morari Bapu in a different mould.

Nuclear reactors sought from French giant "not safe": Letter to Modi on Jaitapur project

Counterview Desk
Amidst reports that the French nuclear giant EDF has submitted a “techno-commercial offer” for the world’s largest nuclear power park proposed in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur nuclear power park in Jaitapur on the Maharashtra coast, Dr EAS Sarma, India’s former Union Secretary in the Minister of Power, and an eminent voice in the civil society, has written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also heads Department of Atomic Energy (DAE),  protesting the move.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Kaiga NPP expansion: Karnataka to get just 400 MW, but lose thick forest, fresh water

Counterview Desk
In an open letter to the chairman and members of the Atomic energy Commission (AEC) on the issue of Kaiga nuclear power plant (NPP) expansion plan in Karnataka, Shankar Sharma, well-known power policy analyst, has argued that that in case of expansion, the site will face “exponential increase in radiation emission risks”, underlining, “Nuclear safety experts identify such a scenario as enhanced risk for NPPs with multiple reactors and shared technical facilities."
Sharma says the questions that also be asked whether Karnataka should lose more than 54 hectares of thick forests and about 152,304 cubic meters of fresh water per day from Kali river for a meager benefit of 400 MW from the Kaiga NPP, for which “there are many benign alternative options available for the state at much lower overall costs to the state.”
Text of the letter: This has reference to the public hearing under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Rule 2006 of Ministry of Environment, Fore…

Uttarakhand High Court: Biodiversity boards can impose fees on Ramdev's Divya Pharmacy

By Mridhu Tandon
In a significant decision, the Uttarakhand High Court on December 21, 2018 has dismissed the writ petition filed by Divya Pharmacy founded by Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balakrishnan, challenging the demand of the Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board (UBB) imposing fees under the provisions of the Fair and Equitable Benefit Sharing (FEBS).

Modi becoming Prime Minister now appears to be an "accident" to the people of India

By Sandeep Pandey*
Anupam Kher's film 'Accidental Prime Minister' has targeted Dr Manmohan Singh who served for two terms and may be again acceptable for the job if his party regains power. But his tormentor Narendra Modi seems to be out of breath even before his first term is over. Disillusionment with him is so widespread and deep that people of India may not bear with him for another term. As the general elections approach again the difference between the two needs to be examined.

Story of a foot soldier of Gujarat riots coming from a vulnerable community, Chharas

By Rajiv Shah
He is one of the more prominent "foot soldiers" of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Suresh Jadeja, alias Langdo, alias Richard, is indeed a well-known name in the Naroda Patiya massacre case, in which 97 persons were killed on February 28, 2002, the first day of the riots that shook the nation. Ordinarily, such a person should have been subjected to sociological scrutiny. What have here is a keen journalistic account, with clear political-ideological overtone.