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Jesuits: We must improve our advocacy

Jesuits and their collaborators from across the globe, who are members of the Global Ignatian Advocacy Network (GIAN), gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, in early February, to look specifically at issues related to migration. Last year the meeting took place in Jakarta, Indonesia. At this meeting there was strong consensus that there needs to be improvement in their advocacy work.

Fr Russell Pollitt spoke to some of the delegates about their work and the meeting:

The week-long meeting afforded the delegates to visit Jesuit Refugee Service’s (JRS) operations in Johannesburg as well as visit a number of migrants who have been granted assistance by JRS. The group also met with Johannesburg’s Archbishop Buti Tlhagale who heads up the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference department for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees.

Delegates meeting with Johannesburg's Archbishop, Buti Tlhagale. The archbishop is also head of the Bishops' Conference department for migrants and refugees.

Delegates came from Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Asia-Pacific. Also present was the Secretary for Social Justice and Ecology from the Jesuit Curia in Rome, Fr Xavier Jeyaraj and JRS’s international director for advocacy and communications, Fr Aloysious Mowe.

The African representative for GIAN, Fr Rampe Hlobo, said that a number of pertinent points had emerged from the gathering. He said that each Jesuit Conference and Province across the world, it was decided, had to take a decision about its work with migrants. He said that it was realised that when provinces of the Society took ownership of the work that was being done, it is normally done well and is effective.

Jesuit Fathers Anthony Dias (Mumbai) and Rampe Hlobo (South Africa).

Fr Xavier Jeyaraj said that the meeting “was an opportunity to review, reflect and respond collectively not merely as Jesuits but also as Christians to the increasing global phenomenon of forced migration all over the world.” He went on to say that  some of the developed countries in Europe and the US “are seeking ways to restrict migration, put up barriers that would deny access to international protection and humanitarian assistance, even to those who flee due to violence, war and human-made calamities.”

Hlobo said that delegates realised that there needs to be a more improved and effective collaboration between GIAN and the work of JRS. This would enable Jesuits and their collaborators, across the world, to respond better to the needs of both refugees and migrants.

He went on to say that in their meeting with the archbishop it also became clear that the GIAN’s advocacy work needs improvement. There was a strong need for Jesuits and their collaborators to “challenge legal frameworks that impede migrants and refugees from living dignified lives”. In order to do this Hlobo said that they need to do “more research to inform our interventions or responses to the situation of migrants and refugees”.

Delegates on the streets of Johannesburg visiting migrants and refugees who are being assisted by JRS.

It is not just the needs of migrants and refugees that need to be given attention. Hlobo said that the meeting recognised the need to work with host communities. “The concerns of host communities need to be addressed and should form part of the whole response to protecting and integrating migrants and refugees.”

He said that a shared fundamental hope of all the delegates was that in all the works of the Society of Jesus – parishes, schools, social centres and spirituality centres a “culture of hospitality” would be promoted.

Jeyaraj said that he was “very happy with the meeting, since everyone felt the importance of working together irrespective of the differences in the context and intensity, establish an organizational structure that is required for effective networking and committed to work together on 'promoting a culture of hospitality' besides working on strengthening migration network at the local and conference levels.”

Delegates visited the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela's House in Soweto. (L-R) Frs. Anthony Dias, Aloysious Mowe, Charles Chilufya, Mauricio Garcia-Duran, Xavier Jeyaraj, (Mr) Miguel Gonzales, Kim Min & Rampe Hlobo

GIAN was established in response to the General Congregation 35 of the Society of Jesus in 2008. At the congregation the Society of Jesus said that the “complexity of the problems we face and the richness of the opportunities offered demand that we engage in building bridges between rich and poor and establishing advocacy links of mutual support between those who hold political power and those who find it difficult to voice their interests.” (GC 35 Decree 3 #28)

GIAN seeks to build bridges between marginalised communities and decision-makers.

GIAN lists a number of characteristics of the network:

  • it is based on Jesuit contact with poor communities
  • it communicates their hopes
  • it incorporates Ignatian values
  • it is global and inter-cultural
  • it is a collaborative venture – with civil society and the wider Church
  • it is done in collaboration with other apostolic sectors
  • it is based on rigorous research

The network was set up to focus on five areas where advocacy, it was felt, is paramount. These include migration, ecology, governance of natural and mineral resources, the right to education and peace and human rights. The network seeks to work collaboratively with different Jesuit ministry’s across the world. By doing this the Society hopes that all its institutions can and will use their areas of competence to be a voice for the voiceless. The network also seeks to establish collaborative relationships with the wider Church and civil society.

[Story updated on 20 February 2018]

Photos by Rampe Hlobo and Russell Pollitt.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.