Will President-elect Biden restore US leadership on refugees?

Biden told the audience of JRS supporters: ‘The United States has long stood as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden and the oppressed, a leader in resettling refugees and our humanitarian response. I promise, as president, I’ll reclaim that proud legacy for our country.’

Yesterday we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). It was set up on the 73rd birthday of Pedro Arrupe, then superior general of the Jesuits. Arrupe, having survived the atomic bomb at Hiroshima as a young Jesuit, was very troubled by the plight of refugees at the end of the Vietnam War. He sent cable messages to Jesuit superiors around the world sharing his distress at the suffering of these people. He asked them what they could do to help bring relief to refugees and displaced persons in their own regions. He received a positive response, with numerous offers of personnel, medicine, and funding. So JRS was established to co-ordinate these efforts to accompany, serve and advocate for refugees. Launching the initiative, Arrupe said, ‘Saint Ignatius called us to go anywhere where we are most needed for the greater glory of God. The spiritual as well as the material need of more than 16 million refugees throughout the world today could scarcely be greater. God is calling us through these helpless people.’

On Friday night, there was an online American celebration of the 40th anniversary of JRS – and in the style and on a scale which only the Americans can produce. Speakers included President Elect Joe Biden, Dr Anthony Fauci and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Biden told the audience of JRS supporters: ‘The United States has long stood as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden and the oppressed, a leader in resettling refugees and our humanitarian response. I promise, as president, I’ll reclaim that proud legacy for our country.’

Also speaking was Filippo Grandi, now the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Grandi recalled how as a young man he was given a task as a volunteer at Aranyaprathet on the Thai-Cambodian border in 1987 by the regional JRS co-ordinator, the Australian Jesuit Mark Raper. That initial experience opened Grandi’s eyes to a life of service to refugees. Grandi told us, ‘I was tasked with the job of participating in what we called, a bit pompously to tell you the truth, “a survey of the refugees’ self-reliance activities” or something like that. The most fun part of it was to distribute live chickens and piglets to refugees who had taken part in the survey.’

Having been weighed down all week with the findings of the McCarrick report, seeing the shortcomings of leaders like Pope John Paul II laid bare, and despairing that too many in our Church leadership have been like the servant burying the one talent in the ground, I found myself rejoicing that there are many people of good will who are like those first two servants investing all the talents entrusted to them. To think that a young man like Grandi might look back now as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees with delight and humour to a very modest attempt to make a difference as a volunteer with the Jesuit Refugee Service on the Thai Cambodian border 33 years ago. Those words of Jesus in today’s gospel make sense: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater, come and join in your master’s happiness.’

print

Frank Brennan AO is a Jesuit priest and Rector of Newman College at the University of Melbourne. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the PM Glynn Institute at Australian Catholic University and an Adjunct Professor at the Thomas More Law School at ACU.

This entry was posted in Immigration, refugees. Bookmark the permalink.

Please keep your comments short and sharp and avoid entering links. For questions regarding our comment system please click here.
(Please note that we are unable to post comments on your behalf.)