In mid-October, over 30 Jesuit-affiliated organizations gathered at the University of Central America (UCA) and Centro Loyola, El Salvador, for the Assembly of the Central America/North America Region (RJM CANA). This was the first major gathering of the network since lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
St. Oscar Romero served as a temporary patron saint during this week as the assembly kept his guidance, motivations, and commitment to walking with people at the center of all discussions. Before his assassination in 1980, Archbishop Romero spoke out against injustice and oppression, standing with the people of El Salvador. Today, he is a symbol of hope for many including those gathered at the assembly.
Over 70 participants, including Josh Utter (Advocacy Officer) and Maria Torres (Director of Domestic Programs) from JRS/USA, worked to identify challenges, evaluate strategic plans, and establish systems to work together in the future. Representatives traveled from Panama to Canada and each person shared a bit of their culture through songs, traditional dances, poems, and objects.
“The week marked a regional effort to make sure we are responding to those seeking safety,” said Josh Utter. “The assembly’s significance is fostering understanding across regions where communication may be limited.
JRS has a role in accompanying people forced to flee their homes both in the United States and in Mexico. This week enhanced JRS/USA’s understanding of the experiences of refugees coming from and traveling through Central America.
“The network is an important space for us,” Josh said. “It allows us to collaborate and walk together, especially when it comes to factors that impact people on the move.” During the gathering, JRS/USA gained a more comprehensive understanding of the experience of refugees coming from and traveling through Central America before they arrive at the US-Mexico Border.
A vital component of Josh’s work with JRS/USA is meeting with elected representatives to advocate for better refugee policies. “We were able to strengthen channels of communication between ministries so that we can respond holistically and in a way that meets the needs of refugees.”
He said this week gave him better context to have more engaging conversations with policymakers. “We can bring this information back to Washington DC and Capitol Hill to enact better informed policies,” Josh said.