Who we are

“…Struck by the plight of thousands of boat people and refugees, I felt it my duty to send cable messages to some 20 Major Superiors [of the Society of Jesus] around the world. Sharing my distress with them, I asked what they in their countries could do to bring at least some relief to such a tragic situation…” Fr Pedro Arrupe wrote 14 November, 1980 when he officially started the Jesuit Refugee Service. Arrupe, then the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, noticed the need for Jesuits around the world to assist in refugee work.

Arrupe thought back to Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, who took it upon himself to house Italian people forcibly displaced in Rome during the winter of 1538. Because the winter was so harsh, people were forced into the city of Rome to seek assistance, but many died in the streets due to hunger and cold. Ignatius and his first followers gave their beds to those in need and took in 300 people into their home. Arrupe said JRS was following in Ignatius’ footsteps by assisting the poor and displaced.

In 1981 Arrupe called a meeting in Bangkok to develop JRS Asia Pacific. He realised the need for emergency refugee care in the region and appointed a local staff of Jesuits and laypeople to do the job.

From the emergency response to that crisis the work of JRS has expanded towards a longer-term commitment. The worldwide sympathy for refugees, which in 1979 had allowed so many to resettle, has diminished. Refugees are expected to wait in camps much longer, and are more likely to be rejected. They face a more unwelcoming reception in countries of first asylum. Thus, the long-term needs of refugees need increasing attention—education, cultural support and the ability to participate in the decisions which shape their lives besides the needs of food, medicine and shelter.

JRS’ mission is to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS undertakes services at national and regional levels with the support of our international office in Rome.

Thirty-five years after the genesis of JRS Asia Pacific, the work has grown to assist forcibly displaced persons in seven countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia. 

  • Society of Jesus

The Jesuit Refugee Service is an apostolic work of the Society of Jesus. For more than 460 years Jesuit priests and brothers have served the Church in new and unexpected ways. Men on the move, ready to change residence, occupation, approach – whatever is necessary to advance the Church’s mission: teaching the word of Jesus Christ and preaching his Good News – a radical service of faith in a world that respects neither faith nor the justice it entreats.

Today, Jesuits have enhanced their cooperation to include men and women who share this vision of service to faith and justice. And this exchange has expanded to include dialogue with other religions and cultures. One of the most notable examples of this cooperation is the Jesuit Refugee Service. For more information about the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) click here.
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