Pope Francis called on the faithful to help those “who seek refuge from the viruses of injustice, violence and war.”
“All too many people in today’s world are forced literally to cling to rafts and dinghies,” noted the pontiff in a message to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) for its 40th anniversary on Nov. 12.
He reminded the JRS of its role “in raising awareness of the plight of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.”
“Yours is the vital task of extending the hand of friendship to those who are lonely, separated from their families, or even abandoned, accompanying them and giving them a voice, especially by providing them with opportunities to grow through educational and development programs,” said Pope Francis.
He said the occasion reminded him of “the many men, women and children who seek refuge and assistance from JRS.”
The JRS was founded in November 1980 by Father Pedro Arrupe, Jesuit superior general from 1965 to 1983.
Father Arrupe was moved to act after witnessing the plight of hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees fleeing by boat following the Vietnam War.
Father Arrupe wrote to more than 50 Jesuit provinces asking them to help to oversee a global humanitarian response to the crisis.
The JRS was founded and began to work among the Vietnamese boat people in camps in Southeast Asia.
“Father Arrupe translated his shock at the suffering of those fleeing their homeland in search of safety as a result of the war in Vietnam into a deeply practical concern for their physical, psychological and spiritual welfare,” the pope wrote.
The JRS expanded beyond Southeast Asia in the 1980s, extending to refugees and internally displaced people in Central and Latin America, southeastern Europe, and Africa.
Today, the organization supports almost 680,000 individuals worldwide through 10 regional offices and its international office in Rome.