On January 13, Father Arturo Sosa SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, joined the community of Centro Astalli (Jesuit Refugee Service Italy) in commemorating the International Day for Migrants and Refugees at the Church of Gesù, the Mother Church of the Society in Rome.
“This moment presents an important invitation to the Society of Jesus to accompany, with its few resources, and to share in the anxieties and hopes of the refugees here in Italy and everywhere in the world,” said Fr Sosa at the event.
The theme was young immigrants and refugees and Fr General sat with four young refugees from Syria, Guinea Bissau, Iran and Afghanistan and heard their testimonies before he gave his speech.
“It means a lot to me that Pope Francis decided to dedicate this day to refugee children,” said Aziz, a 20-year-old refugee from Guinea. He had to leave his country when he was 16 years old, and he travelled across Mali, then Niger and Libya before arriving in Italy.
Mirvat, a refugee from Syria, shared that the neighbourhood where she spent her childhood no longer exists. “Those who destroyed Aleppo have also destroyed the dreams, the memories, the plans and the future of a whole generation of young people.”
Fr Sosa spoke of similar situations he had encountered on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, where he lived for 10 years. “I met entire families that had been forced to abandon everything to save lives threatened by injustice and violence that has taken hold of our societies. I met children and young people who had been forced to become soldiers and to participate in wars so far away from their dreams, thoughts and desires,” he said,.
He also recalled encountering “the generosity of many families who welcomed the refugees as brothers and sisters in search of a new life”, and shared that through these encounters, he became more aware of the challenges states face in facilitating the legal integration of refugees.
He also said that he had witnessed the human pain resulting from abuse by police bodies and human traffickers. “Therefore, the efforts of closely accompanying the refugees and migrants, particularly the young and vulnerable, are close to my heart. I wish to encourage and promote efforts that ensure the protection of life and the hope of the child and adolescent refugees, especially those recruited by traffickers to convert them into the so-called baby-traffickers.”
He urged people in Europe and other parts of the world to put pressure on their governments to create safe access to legal channels for children and teenagers forced to leave their countries, and often also their families, to make a future elsewhere.
Finally, he invited everyone gathered “to step up your effort to make our societies places of genuine welcome to those who are suffering because of the need to migrate”.
After his speech, some of the refugees presented Father General with an icon of the Magi coming to visit the child Jesus, except in this image, the Magi are not kings but migrants.
The ceremony concluded with a prayer for refugees and the forcibly displaced recited by Fr Sosa.
“The only thing that matters is that our future is one of peace and freedom, because our past was marked with war and violence,” says Edelawit, an Ethiopian refugee that has lived in Rome since he was 8 years old, now waiting for Italian citizenship.