What first springs to mind when thinking of Jesuits in the Middle East? For Fr. Dan Corrou, S.J., Regional Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Middle East and North Africa (MENA), he reflects on their enduring presence — beginning with the first permanent Jesuit mission to Lebanon in 1644.
“We have been in the region for over 300 years,” he remarked as part of the JRS/USA “Remain & Restore” Speakers Tour this past October.
“And we will be here 300 years from now.”
Alongside Fr. Joseph Cassar, S.J., Country Director, JRS Iraq, the two Jesuits collectively traversed five US cities to raise awareness for refugees in the region and discuss advocacy priorities while garnering critical funds for JRS projects in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq.
“What is our role in this beautiful, powerful, strong country — this beautiful and broken country — as advocates for a different world and for a better world?” Fr. Dan asked a group of students at the University of Detroit Mercy.
The answer is multi-faceted, especially throughout the challenges imposed by COVID-19 and multiple protracted conflicts across the Middle East.
Throughout their engagements in Washington, DC, Detroit, Boston, and New York, both Jesuits spoke of the educational approach that JRS takes to sustainably support refugee communities abroad.
“The way we see education is in the broader Jesuit sense,” says Fr. Cassar, S.J., “so [it’s] something that enables young people to develop themselves and become women and men for others.”
“To become people who can also give back something from what they are learning in their present experience with us.”
JRS Iraq currently operates two community centers in Duhok City for nearly 28,000 displaced Yazidi people. In addition to providing home visits, education support, and livelihoods training, JRS staff provide psychosocial care to the IDPs and refugees in the area, many of whom have serious health issues.
Beyond universities and parishes, both Jesuits shared their insights with Voice of America’s — Nightline Africa, particularly on JRS’s mental health and psychosocial work in the region.
“We try to keep people’s hope alive that they can overcome difficulties, look after themselves, and remain in such a way to be psychologically and mentally healthy,” said Fr. Cassar, S.J.
“And to face the problems that they must face.”
Nearing the end of the tour, Fr. Corrou, S.J. delivered a moving homily at Saint Cecilia Parish in Boston connecting the ever-expansive love of God to our own call to welcome the stranger.
“We hear in the Gospel that it is the call to each one of us. How are we invited beyond safe confines of self-satisfaction? What is beyond small and easy?” he asked hundreds of parishioners and thousands more viewing online.
“Everyone of us is a remarkable gift, a beautiful creation — worth being loved [and] worth loving.”
With the conclusion of the 2021 Remain and Restore Speakers Tour, the JRS mission carries on to accompany, serve, and advocate ever more.