Pope, JRS See Face of Christ in Faces of Refugees

ROME (CNS) — The photos of refugees projected on the facade of Rome’s Gesu Church are reminders of what Pope Francis would call the suffering body of Christ today, said the head of Jesuit Refugee Service.

Jesuit Father Peter Balleis, JRS director, said the images projected on the front of the Jesuit church in the historic center of Rome are “the Gospel in the form of images,” reminding people of Jesus’ words that by giving someone food or welcoming someone they welcome him.

The 12-minute video, which includes about 200 photographs taken by JRS staff working with refugees from Syria and Congo, was scheduled to be projected on the church from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on 18-21 June as part of the 20 June commemoration of World Refugee Day.

At the end of his weekly general audience on 19 June, Pope Francis called attention to World Refugee Day, focusing particularly on refugee families “often forced to flee their homes and countries in a hurry and losing all their belongings and their security to escape violence, persecution or serious discrimination because of their religion, ethnic identity or political ideas.”

“We cannot be insensitive toward families and all our brothers and sisters who are refugees,” the pope said. “We are called to help them, opening ourselves to understanding them and offering hospitality.

“In their faces is the face of Christ,” the pope said.

The refugee faces and other scenes in the video, “Sanctuary and Sustenance,” were put together by JRS working with the Chicago-based Art Works Projects for Human Rights and received funding from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. It is accompanied by a photo exhibit inside the church.

“For people torn from their homes, the word ‘sanctuary’ represents the value of opening doors and protecting the fundamental human rights which are sacred to all of us and must be kept so,” Father Balleis said.

“Refugees also find themselves in need of ‘sustenance’ that goes beyond food, water, shelter, clothing to include deeper desires that nourish us: human relationships, compassionate friendships, knowledge and hospitality,” the Jesuit said.

The photo exhibit and projection were inaugurated with a Mass and a reception featuring music by Congolese women and others who have been assisted by or work at Centro Astalli, the JRS refugee center in Rome.

Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, was the main celebrant and homilist at the Mass. He said, “World Refugee Day reminds us that every refugee and displaced person is a human being with his or her own story, culture, experience and legitimate aspirations.

“These situations cannot leave us indifferent,” he added. “Each of us has a responsibility toward the stranger, the weak, the refugee.”

Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal, pastor of Holy Savior Parish in Homs, Syria, and coordinator of the JRS children’s programs in Syria, told the gathering, “The situation in Syria, especially in Homs, is very difficult. About 25 percent of the city has been destroyed, including churches and mosques.”

While he has parish responsibilities, “Our mission in Syria today as JRS, as Jesuits, as Christians is to help the displaced,” he said.

JRS runs 11 centers serving about 3,200 children. For a few hours each day, the children are able to do school work, play and talk with trained assistants about the total disruption in their lives. By serving displaced children from all religions and whose parents are on various sides of the Syrian conflict, Father Hilal said JRS hopes “to begin reconciliation work with the children, then with their parents.”

Danilo Giannese, who recently finished a twoyear term as advocacy and communications officer for JRS in the Great Lakes region of Africa, said some 2.6 million people have been displaced in Congo from fighting that has raged since 1995.

“This region is too strategic and too rich in mineral resources to be left in peace,” he said. “This is where we get the coltan to make our mobile phones and laptops. It’s where we get diamonds for wedding rings. It’s where we get copper for our houses and cars.

“It’s also the place where nearly half of the women have been raped during conflict,” he said. “It is the world capital of sexual violence against women and girls.”

Giannese described the situation in Congo as desperate despite the fact that it’s seldom in the news.

“We have no right to give up,” he said. “We don’t have the right to say that nothing can be done.”

Like others at the presentation of the exhibit, Giannese said JRS isn’t calling for heroism, but for people to fulfill their human duty to others.

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