The Jubilee Year of Mercy opened by Pope Francis in Bangui, the capital of war-torn Central African Republic, on Nov. 30 has given rise to many creative initiatives and concrete ways of showing mercy to children, men and women in our day.
One of these is the Mercy in Motion campaign of Jesuit Refugee Service. This one-year campaign aims to raise $35 million toward the Global Education Initiative so that J.R.S. will be able to support the education of 220,000 refugees worldwide by the year 2020.
This noble initiative has recently gained the precious support of the international Catholic women’s network, Voices of Faith, which has entered into partnership with J.R.S. This good news was announced at a press conference in Rome on March 4 by Joaquín Martínez, S.J., J.R.S.’s international education coordinator, and Chantal Götz, managing director of V.O.F. and executive director of the Fidel Götz Foundation, a charitable trust based in Liechtenstein that is the driving force behind V.O.F.
Since it was founded by Pedro Arrupe, the superior general of the Jesuits, on Nov. 18, 1980, J.R.S. has focused on education as a key contribution to the needs and hopes of refugees. Schools provide the stability that children need to cope with loss, fear, stress and violence experienced during times of crisis. Being in school can keep children safe and protected from risks, including gender-based violence, recruitment into armed groups, child labor and early marriage.
There are some 15 million refugees and some 38 million internally displaced persons in the world today. The refugees face many barriers as they seek access to education, ranging from overcrowding in schools to xenophobia in host communities. Only 36 percent of refugee children go to secondary school and fewer than 1 percent make it to higher education.
As for access to education, women and girls are particularly disadvantaged. Jesuit Refugee Service, in a briefing paper, explains that the reasons for the low educational participation for girls are often related to limited or difficult school access, the presence or fear of an unsafe learning environment, financial constraints that require girls to contribute to family economies and lack of documentation or cultural assumptions about the value of educating girls. Furthermore, refugee and internally displaced women and girls often fall victim to sexual violence and exploitation.
In an effort to address this problem, J.R.S., which has programs in 45 countries, decided on the Global Education Initiative because it recognizes that through quality education people can better fulfill their own potential and fully contribute to the growth, strength and stability of their communities. Education gives refugees the tools not only to contribute to their new communities, but to rebuild their old ones. It contributes to peace-building and fosters the development of more resilient and cohesive societies.
Voices of Faith, for its part, seeks to enhance the dignity, participation and leadership of women and girls in the Catholic Church and in society, so it was natural for it to join the J.R.S. initiative. “It’s a perfect fit to link the Voices of Faith initiative and J.R.S. Mercy in Motion campaign, because as partners we aim to support the Catholic Church’s mission and work in looking at it through a gender lens,” Father Martínez said.
“Education helps empower women to assert their rights and strengthen their protection. It promotes equality and full participation in all decisions regarding their lives, which can improve not only their lives but also the lives of their children and communities,” he added.
“It takes courage to break through traditional barriers to access and provide education; to venture into war-torn countries; to help war victims believe in peace,” Ms. Götz told the press conference.
The decision of Voices of Faith to join forces with the Mercy in Motion campaign of J.R.S. will surely be welcomed by Pope Francis. Since his election three years ago, he has frequently denounced “the globalization of indifference” in the face of the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II, involving some 60 million refugees and migrants. He has called for a response of mercy to the cries of these suffering people. This partnership of Voices of Faith with J.R.S. seeks to do just that, in a small but significant way.