On 26-27 October 2022, the Regional Coordination Meeting (RCM) of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe took place in Chant D´Oiseau, Brussels, Belgium. 42 colleagues from the regional office and the 23 country offices met to update each other on the work done so far throughout the year, especially on the response to the Ukraine crisis, as well as to agree on the immediate next actions. Under the frame of the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the regional office, the meeting also provided the perfect opportunity to look back at the achievements and challenges of the past three decades, as well as to discuss the key directions to move forward as a network in the upcoming years.
The meeting kicked off with a message of gratitude by JRS Europe director Alberto Ares. He started by acknowledging the complex context in Europe with the ongoing war in Ukraine, yet he also underlined the silent, but powerful, force of people who open their doors and hearts to those in need. He also thanked everyone for building bridges and being witnesses of hope and social poets. “This meeting was very important to share our common work, but also to dream for the future. It was also important to meet in person, especially after the restrictions related to the pandemic. It helped us connect on a human level and strengthen the relationships that will help us provide better services to refugees and other forcibly displaced people”, expressed Alberto Ares after the meeting.
The response to the Ukraine crisis
Central to the agenda was the response to the Ukraine Crisis, structured under the One Proposal. Marius Talius and Bianca Albu from JRS Romania shared their experience of leadership and how their team adapted throughout the response. Meanwhile, Inha Dul (JRS Ukraine), Sylwia Jankowska (JRS Poland), and Olena Zinkevych and Diana Haidemak (JRS Romania) shared their personal experiences. In this context, Alberto Ares gave Inha Dul the letters sent by children from the Australian St. Mary’s College filled with drawings and messages of hope for the children in refuges of JRS Ukraine. David D´Agnelli, Programme Officer for the Ukraine Response at JRS Europe, provided an update on the overall response coordinated throughout the countries, which highlighted both successes and challenges in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.
JRS Europe at 30
2022 marks 30 years since the foundation of JRS Europe and it gave the chance to reflect on achievements and challenges over the last three decades, as well as to look forward with hope into the future of the organization. Together the 23 country offices and the regional office drafted a statement in which they expressed solidarity with Ukraine and those forcibly displaced, as well as concern for the already developing two-tier European response to asylum seekers, in which Europe welcomes some while it turns its back on others. The statement also stresses some other worrying developments around Europe but finds hope in the response to the Ukraine crisis as an example of generosity and welcoming.
JRS Europe work within the larger Jesuit mission
Under the title, “The world is our home”, Tom Smolich, international director of JRS, Filipe Martins, director of the Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC), and Franck Janin, President of the Conference of European Provincials, provided a presentation that helped place the work done by the JRS Europe Network within the larger Jesuit mission. Tom Smolich invited everyone to think “glocal”, with local solutions that interact with a global reality, and to work on ensuring sustainability. Filipe Martins expressed his hope for the larger JESC network to be a “community that serves in which when we walk together, we become brothers and sisters”. Lastly, Franck Janin encouraged everyone to look for ways in which the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Society of Jesus are present in their everyday work.
Updates on the work of the regional office
During the RCM, the JRS Europe team provided an update on the activities done at the European level in terms of funding and programmes and opened a discussion on how to better collaborate as a network. JRS Europe also took the occasion to present the Annual Report of 2021, which had been delayed due to the emergency response to the Ukraine Crisis.
After two days of intense collaboration, Alberto Ares closed the meeting by thanking everyone for their work. He also highlighted that this edition of the RCM is amongst the largest in the number of participants and the most equal in terms of gender representation, with almost half of the participants being women. All teams returned to their country offices with recharged energies and a renewed commitment to continue to work towards a Europe where human rights, protection, hospitality, integration, and reconciliation all have a place to flourish within a larger vision for inclusive and welcoming societies.