The St Mary Magdalene School is one of three schools JRS/USA built in Thiotte, Haiti, to help communities recover from the 2010 earthquake. The normal routines of school life help children traumatized by disaster recover confidence in a safe environment. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Fr. Thomas Smolich, SJ, notes that refugees "sometimes spend many years in camps, sometimes they're able to go back home, sometimes they wind up being resettled in countries near and far. What they can always take with them is an education, it's an intangible skill, an intangible asset which allows them to make a better life and a better contribution wherever they might wind up."
Each of the Jesuit provinces in the United States has been asked to help support this important initiative.
Pope Francis directed JRS to undertake this Global Education Initiative during an audience with JRS staff and supporters on November 14, saying "to give a child a seat at school is the finest gift you can give…. For children forced to emigrate, schools are places of freedom."
Mercy in Motion reflects the words of Pope Francis: "mercy is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality… We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see how much generosity everyone is capable of."
"Jesuit Refugee Service/USA looks forward to putting the Pope's words into action," said Jesuit Refugee Service North America Regional Director Armando Borja.
For 35 years, JRS has focused on education as a means to build peace and foster the development of more resilient and cohesive societies. Funds raised by the Mercy in Motion campaign will implement the JRS Global Education Initiative, which aims to robustly expand both formal and informal education programs - from primary school to university, and including vocational education and teacher training.
"We have over many years seen the benefits that arise from supporting refugee education; the ripple effects that allow refugees to gain the knowledge needed to open a business to support their family, or to go on to further their education in a university," said Borja.
Pope Francis has long urged people to welcome refugees, noting the world is currently suffering from a "globalization of indifference," ignoring those who cry out for mercy.
"As human beings, we are often at the mercy of war, of nature, of governments - of forces beyond our control. For this reason, nearly 60 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes, constantly moving. But for people living in motion, those who cannot take possessions can bring knowledge and change their world," said Fr. Smolich, former provincial of the California Province of the Society of Jesus and president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States.
"Education helps resettled refugees integrate and contribute to their new communities more quickly, and helps refugees who are able to return home to rebuild their countries. The benefits of education are innumerable," said Borja.
A quality education gives refugees the tools not only to contribute to their new communities, but also to rebuild their old ones. Refugees face a variety of barriers trying to access education, from overcrowding in schools to xenophobia in host communities. Their fundamental right to education is often lost. Among refugee children globally, only 36 percent go to secondary school and less than one percent have the opportunity to pursue a higher education.
During the November 14 audience, Pope Francis encouraged the more than 100 JRS staff and supporters in attendance to "help refugees grow in self-confidence, to realize their highest inherent potential and be able to defend their rights as individuals and communities."
Inspired by his encouragement, JRS teams in cities and refugee camps around the world will strengthen and expand existing educational programs and make sure the potential of thousands of refugee children and young adults is not wasted.
"We must show mercy to those who are at the mercy of outside forces," said Fr. Smolich. "We must mobilize ourselves for those who are in motion."
To support the Mercy in Motion campaign, please visit our secure donation page and specify Jesuit Refugee Service - Mercy in Motion Campaign in the "other" category in the "Designation" field.