USA: West Coast Speakers Tour – I Was a Stranger: Fighting Fear, Welcoming Refugees -The Full Story

02 April 2018|Elizabeth Ward, Development Officer for Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.

JRS Malta Country Director, Dr. Katrine Camilleri on the West coast speaking tour presenting to the University of San Francisco. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

In March, JRS/USA hosted JRS Malta Country Director, Dr. Katrine Camilleri on a West coast tour. With stops in Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Napa Valley, Katrine spoke to twelve audiences in seven venues. Over 370 supporters, students, teachers, local parishioners, and new friends of JRS joined to learn about Katrine’s work and the issues refugees face before and after arriving in Malta.

In each presentation, Katrine shared compelling stories of her work, paired with images and testimonials of those she has worked with and advocated for. She spoke to staff, faculty, and students at Loyola Marymount University and Loyola High School in Los Angeles. In Portland, we were welcomed into the home of volunteers who had spent nearly a year working alongside Katrine and her team in Malta. She spoke to students at Jesuit High School and to supporters at Loyola Jesuit Center on the site of the Oregon Province office. The University of San Francisco hosted a lunch and an evening reception in partnership with The Joan and Ralph Lane Center. At the end of the tour, supporters, both new and old, welcomed Katrine to St. Helena, CA for a reception in wine country.

Katrine was drawn to JRS almost 20 years ago by the organization’s guiding principle of accompaniment. She eloquently describes accompaniment from her perspective of being present in situations, particularly in detention centers, where in legal and professional terms, very little can be achieved. She described being welcomed by some in detention and scoffed at by others who might say, “Why do you keep coming here if you can do nothing?” The visits and the work in detention are very difficult, but JRS continues serving because those in who are detained need to know that they are not forgotten, that there are people working on their behalf and people who care about them and their rights.

Concluding her presentation, she urged listeners to respond compassionately with four action points: pray, learn, speak up, and support. Pray for refugees and for ourselves that we may have the strength and sensibility to help our refugee brothers and sisters. Continue to learn more about the plight of refugees, the issues that they face, and what you can do to help. Katrine asked that we all speak up and advocate for better treatment of refugees and for better policies to ensure safety, protection, and opportunity for those forced to flee their homes. And finally, to support. Support of refugees can be financial, a culmination of the above actions, or simply befriending a new member of your community and finding a way to help.

Katrine closed each presentation with a quote from the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People: “Hope, courage, love, and creativity are necessary so that lives may be restored.” She emphasized that those fleeing their homes are seeking protection, but beyond that, they are people with dreams and potential. Being “safe” and living a fulfilled life are not one in the same, we need to advocate and work to provide opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives.