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Praying with Refugees: the spirit of accompaniment
01 December 2011

Michael S. Gallagher, S.J. and his young 'escorts' tour Kiziba Refugee camp in eastern Rwanda. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Geneva) December 1, 2011 — Members of the international office staff of Jesuit Refugee Service, especially those of us who do not go into the field regularly, do not have the "normal" relations with forcibly displaced persons that other JRS staff enjoy.(Whereas most JRS people are in one place serving a specific population — albeit sometimes a very large one — we in the international office are in for a short period of time. Usually we are focusing on internal JRS issues such as training of local volunteers or fostering relations between JRS and the local church and intergovernmental organizations. For me a question arises: how do I accompany the forcibly displaced?

Michael Gallagher S.J.

Your Reflections
Two images come to mind. The first was somewhere in Eastern Chad. The JRS team got into a truck and drove to a designated place where we met up with other non-governmental organizations, each in its vehicle. Two vehicles carrying armed members of the Department Intregré de Securité joined us and took up station, one at the head of the group the other as the last vehicle and we drove to the refugee camp. We were "escorted."

The second image comes for Kiziba Refugee camp in eastern Rwanda. I was walking through the camp to see JRS works with the project director. A very young boy, between three and four years old came up and grabbed a finger on my left hand and began walking with me. Soon a small girl of about the same age came up and took hold of a finger on my right hand. We walked all around the camp looking at JRS schools, and other works. I was accompanied.

JRS' mission is to accompany, serve and plead the cause of forcibly displaced persons. Accompaniment, I have learned, is by its very nature reciprocal. It cannot be done alone and it cannot be done in a unilateral fashion.

The two children who walked with me were undoubtedly born in Kiziba camp. They had never been in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which their parents fled. Kiziba was home to them. They did not feel displaced there. The two tykes accompanied me through the camp and I accompanied them. The three of us were not engaged in "doing for" but in "being with." We entrusted each other with our time and presence.

In their wordless innocence, by the simple gesture of holding the hand of a person never seen before, these two natives of the camp became the embodiment of Jesus’ words in Mt. 25:35: "I was… a stranger and you welcomed me."

Suggested Reading for Prayer

Matthew 25: 31-40

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' 

Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' 

And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

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