“Europe finds itself at a “crossroads of civilizations” between “on the one hand fraternity, which fertilizes the human community with kindness; on the other, indifference, which bleeds the Mediterranean.” Here are the words of Pope Francis at the Memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants who died at sea, on Friday, September 22 during his visit to Marseille. On this occasion, Ibrahim, welcomed in the JRS Welcome program in Marseille, gave the Pope a letter from the entire JRS France network.
JRS FRANCE LETTER
We take advantage of your visit to Marseille with the Mediterranean bishops to thank you for your visit and the words you regularly speak in favour of people exiled in Europe. We suffer with you from the closures of identities in Europe and the deaths on the roads of exile.
Since 2007, JRS France has run a network of families, individuals and religious communities who welcome into their homes, under their roof, people exiled without accommodation, while their asylum request is processed by the State. When at the height of the Syrian crisis you called on European parishes to welcome, this was for us a confirmation of our mission: to set up a framework for French people to experience hospitality, to welcome foreigners into their homes. In a respectful manner and without endangering families or exiled people. The way in which this “JRS Welcome” program is carried out is described in the document attached to this letter: “Opening your door, guide for network stakeholders”.
For 15 years now, we have been meeting exiled people and living with them an experience of reciprocal hospitality. This little shared route allowed us to discover something that we did not expect: the welcome transforms us as much as it transforms them and ultimately, what matters is not so much taking people from the street by offering them a roof and a family, but it is the encounter, that is to say offering each other the possibility of discovering in truth who the other is, what they carry; and also offer them what drives us and what we carry, with respect, listening and kindness.
Over the years, we have collectively learned to listen, to talk to each other, to recognize the joys but also the difficulties of meeting each other. And the particularity of living with exiled people, under the same roof, is that the difficulties begin not at the level of intellectual dialogue, but in ways of doing things, around the dishes, the washing machine and the use of the cell phone. But we learned to talk together about the surprises of the encounter, to look for what helps and what is more delicate. So, we gradually grew together in terms of listening and attention. From there was born the little book The Bet on Interculturality.
This is not a speculative reflection on the meeting but these few pages try to give ideas to help the families who welcome and the people welcomed to understand, based on concrete examples, how to pay attention to someone of another culture; and how, without being naive, to succeed in saying what is essential for us, to distinguish it from what is accessory; name what is negotiable or non-negotiable; to live better together, in our differences.
Just as we gave thanks to you for the document on common fraternity that you signed with Imam Al Tayeb, and the publication of Fratelli tutti, which continue to nourish our common journey towards a fraternity happy with its diversity, We also hope that you will give thanks with us for this journey that several thousand French families continue to live every day, humbly but resolutely, within our JRS Welcome network with people exiled in 40 cities in France. The examples are real-life situations, and the illustrations were created by Ali, a person we welcomed. If you look carefully at the images, you will see lots of details and the friendly kindness that animates the meetings at JRS France.
Listening to and living with exiled people also allowed us to discover certain ways in which public authorities operate which do not seem appropriate to us. This is why we published in 2021 the other document that we are offering you today: an advocacy report aimed at French politicians so that migrants have rights and living conditions. best in France: “Welcome well, integrate better”. We hope that if you meet politicians, this little book can help you point out some concrete ways to remove obstacles to integration.
Finally, we took the liberty of printing for you a photo of a painting of St Ignatius. The refugee, of Muslim culture, who painted this painting wanted to represent him young. He insisted on reading the life of Ignatius with the help of a French volunteer; it was a spiritual and artistic experience for them; he looked for models in books, but Ignatius was always represented aged; finally, he decided to take another refugee as a model. This painting therefore represents Ignatius the pilgrim in the guise of a migrant. We allow ourselves to offer it to you so that it accompanies your contemplation and your pilgrimage on this earth, which we hope will last as long as it pleases our Lord.
Be assured, Father, of our filial affection and our fraternal prayer for you, for our Church and for the world, a world in which the Lord continues to rejoice when men and women work together, guided by the Spirit, towards a universal brotherhood,
The JRS France team