40 years of accompaniment: Fr. Pau Vidal SJ

06 November 2020

Fr Pau Vidal with and at that time Education Coordinator, Fr Alvar Sanchez SJ, at the Gulawein school, in Maban, South Sudan. Around 200 children attend this school supported by JRS, which is building new classrooms, providing daily food and paying teachers. (Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran)

Fr Pau Vidal SJ first commitment with JRS was in Liberia, where he accompanied refugees and IDPs in their process of returning to their hometowns and rebuilding their country after 14 years of civil war. He then served as pastoral coordinator in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, and as Country Director in South Sudan, accompanying Sudanese refugees in Maban refugee camps.

Describe your life and what was happening when you first became involved with JRS.

My first contact with the Jesuits exposed me to their understanding of faith and justice, to which I felt very attracted. I first discovered my call to deepen my following of Jesus, when I was in Africa in 1998. I remember the testimony of a colleague who was arriving from Great Lakes after the genocide. I recognized a call resonating in me: to be able to live as a religious at the margins, at the periphery, to walk with those who are in need, and those who are forgotten.

Later on, during my studies, I asked to do my regency with JRS. I was sent for two years in Liberia, between 2005 and 2007. That was a very joyful moment, since we were able to accompany refugees and IDPs in their process of returning to their hometowns and villages. It was particularly consoling to support the Liberian people as they started rebuilding their country after 14 years of civil war.

I was ordained a priest in 2012, and shortly after I was sent back to JRS as a pastoral coordinator in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya for two years.

In 2014, after doing the International Diploma on Humanitarian Assistance at Fordham University in New York, I was asked to go to JRS South Sudan. JRS was trying to consolidate its presence in the Maban refugee camps. Sudanese refugees, another fellow Jesuit and myself were sent to Maban, which is quite a remote place. Our initial time there was not easy for different reasons—i.e. insecurity, lack of means, isolation, etc. After three years in the Maban refugee camps, I took up the role of JRS South Sudan Director until October 2018.

Where are you in your life today?

After six years with JRS Eastern Africa, I went to Mexico for a time of spiritual renewal (what we Jesuits call tertianship). At the end of my tertianship, I realized that it would be beneficial for me to be back in Barcelona after nearly a decade abroad. I was eager to be back home and reconnect with my roots.

Currently I am based in Barcelona where I am involved in two projects: a social centre for migrants and refugees called Migra Studium and in Cristianisme i Justícia (CiJ), which is a centre for social justice, in particular in the area of Ignatian spirituality. I am grateful for this opportunity to try to reflect upon and develop a spirituality committed with the work of justice and reconciliation. In order to be able to remain at the margins, at the trenches of so much social injustice in our wounded world, and offer some consolation and hope, it is very important to acknowledge that we are spiritual beings. Spirituality is not something added but rather that deep inner motor that keeps us grounded, rooted, and open in the midst of our world.

What difference did JRS make in your life?

No doubt, JRS has made all the difference in my life. There is a prayer from Father Arrupe that talks about falling in love. Love changes everything: it affects how you wake up, how you go to sleep, how you live your days… Arrupe was deeply in love with God. When reading this text I recognized that JRS has helped me fall in love with a displaced God, a God in exile, who is at the other side of the border, who is heaped in a refugee camp, or who lives in an urban periphery in Nairobi. With the refugees I have experienced time and time again that mysterious human capacity to celebrate life in the midst of death. If it was not for JRS, I am not sure whether today I would be a Jesuit.

What does accompaniment mean to you?

It is such a central word for us in JRS, but still sometimes it is not clearly understood within the humanitarian world because it does not have a precise, clear cut definition. However maybe because of this open-ended definition, it is still an inspiration for our daily work. Accompaniment most often means sharing our life. It helps us open up to the other and acknowledge our shared fragility. What we share as human beings is not only our abilities, our potentialities or future projects. What really binds us and makes us brothers and sisters is the acknowledgment of our common vulnerability and weakness. This is what opens us up to one another in a web of relations, where we are all included from the bottom down.

In a nutshell, for me accompaniment is an expression of what Jesus came to do, and thus what Fr. Arrupe wanted JRS to be able to embody in the most wretched places of our world today.