Refugees appeal to Pope during African visit

Refugees tell give their testimonies in the JRS booklet
Refugees tell give their testimonies in the JRS booklet

Refugees of East Africa will be joining staff of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the region at two events with Pope Francis in Nairobi today and tomorrow. This afternoon, they will be among the delegates when the Pope visits the United Nations Office in Nairobi; tomorrow morning, they will be in attendance at Saint Joseph's parish when he goes to the Kangemi urban slum in the Kenyan capital.

Pope Francis started his five-day visit to Africa in Kenya yesterday; he will then go on to Kampala, Uganda and then Bangui, Central African Republic. In addition to the United Nations and Kangemi, his stops will include schools, churches, a mosque, prayer vigils and a camp for displaced people in Central African Republic, a country still engulfed in inter-communal violence. He will meet with diverse religious leaders, heads of state and other government officials as well as citizens and refugees of varying faiths, ages and backgrounds.

‘Pontifex hear us’

JRS Eastern Africa says it sincerely hopes the Holy Father will re-iterate his call for the world to welcome refugees in the region, where millions of displaced seek acceptance, integration, education and the right to work in camps in urban centres. The Jesuit Refugee Service recently marked its 35th anniversary with a private audience with Pope Francis, at which he was presented with a booklet produced by JRS Eastern Africa as part of its Pontifex Hear Us campaign. In the booklet, refugees call for messages of inclusion, education, participation, solidarity and peace building to be amplified during the Pope's visit to the region.The campaign booklet from JRS Eastern Africa

"In anticipation of your visit to Eastern Africa, we are bringing you 12 stories out of 60 million – allowing their voices to be heard as they call on the Church to drive the world forward into a more peaceful and inclusive future," Fr Endashaw Debrework SJ, Regional Director of JRS Eastern Africa, wrote in the booklet's introduction letter. "They have crossed man-made borders of Uganda and Kenya where they seek not only their rights to protection, but also spiritual guidance, opportunities to learn and grow as well as recognition from their host communities."

Opening doors and hearts

Pope Francis has long advocated for the rights of refugees. His first visit outside the Vatican was to Lampedusa, Italy in 2013, where he commemorated the lives of refugees and migrants lost at sea on their journey to protection in Europe. He has also visited refugees at a centre for refugees run by JRS Italy, commonly known as Centro Astalli, in Rome where he emphasised the importance of the JRS mission to accompany, serve and defend the forcible displaced.

In the booklet produced by JRS Eastern Africa, Fr Endashaw thanked Pope Francis for being a strong advocate for the displaced worldwide. "You have called on the Church and humanity at large to open their doors and their hearts to the plight of those who have suffered the most from conflicts driven by greed and justice,” he wrote. “Thank you for hearing us. Thank you for addressing this current global crisis of conflict and persecution which has driven 60 million people to flee for their lives, causing an age of unprecedented displacement in our world's history."

Main photo:  Ebba Abbamurti, who studies Journalism and Media Studies at Zetech University in Nairobi, Kenya, with a scholarship sponsored by the Jesuit Refugee Service. (Angela Wells/JRS).