“The audacity of the impossible” – Father General Arturo Sosa SJ on JRS’s mission

17 November 2020|Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus

A moment of the JRS's 40th anniversary Mass presided by Father General Arturo Sosa SJ on 14 november 2020 at the Jesuit Curia in Rome.

JRS 40th Anniversary Mass, 14 November 2020


Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus


So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. We have just heard this warning given by St. Paul to the Christian community at Thessalonica. We can also hear it as a warning to us, to the apostolic body of the Society of Jesus today: let us stay awake…

Because he was awake and not sleeping, Father Pedro Arrupe heard the urgent call of displaced people. Because the universal body of the Society of Jesus was awake, alert to the call of GC 32 to the service of faith and promotion of justice as integral dimensions of its identity and mission, a creative response to the situation of displaced people and refugees in different parts of the world became a universal apostolic commitment. The approach was complex and multifaceted. The Society was called not only to provide some “material” help but “to render a service that is human, pedagogical and spiritual” (Fr. Arrupe letter, 14 November 1980).

Forty years later, we cannot go to sleep. We need to be more awake than ever. Many unexpected threats have come like thieves in the night: the COVID-19 pandemic; different kinds of violence, including so many wars; the weakening of democracy as a form of government; racism and religious or ideological fundamentalism; drug trafficking and, worse still, human trafficking; the unstoppable deterioration of the environment… and, still, forcibly displaced people call for urgent attention.

  • Last year, 30,000 people were forcibly displaced each day. 85% of them live in the developing world– not in the global North that claims to be overwhelmed by today’s boat people.
  • The sufferings of refugees shine a light on the needs of poor and marginalized people throughout the world.

–  Of Syria’s 17 million people, over a third are displaced in their own country, and another third are refugees, half of whom live in camps in Turkey and another big group in Lebanon.

–  In Adjumani, Uganda, where close to a million South Sudanese took refuge, only 13% of all children– refugee and local– go to high school.

  • Last year, over 200,000 people, mostly Latinos and Latinas fleeing violence and despair in their homelands, tried to apply for asylum in the United States; families were separated, children put in cages, their pleas for safety ignored or delayed.

As we remember the founding of JRS, the parable of the talents in the passage we just read from the Gospel of Matthew calls the universal apostolic body of the Society of Jesus to audacity. We are called to give an audacious response to the unexpected crises of the present moment without diminishing our engagement with human tragedies that go beyond the present moment, tragedies like the migration of persons forced to leave their homelands because of poverty, violence, or lack of a future for their families.

This is the audacity of the impossible that allowed Mary of Nazareth to trust what was announced to her by the Archangel Gabriel. It is the audacity of the impossible that sustained Father Arrupe’s decision to give an immediate response to the complex situation of displaced persons seeking refuge.

We are asked to be audacious with what we have, with all that we have received from the Lord who loves us. We may produce five more talents or two, according to the measure of the gift received. What we may not do is bury the talent for fear of the magnitude and complexity of the difficulties that we confront, both known difficulties and unexpected ones. We cannot bury the talent and return it without producing anything.

The audacity to which the parable invites us keeps us from being overwhelmed by calculations of our limited capacities. Instead, it impels us to propose the impossible as an invitation from the Lord himself. If we take to the road trusting fully that the Holy Spirit accompanies and guides us, the doubled talents will grow even more as we receive help that we do not yet imagine. Is this not the experience of JRS over the past forty years? At the beginning of this apostolic adventure, could anyone have imagined the road that we have traveled and the horizons that now open before us?

The urgency that inspired Father Arrupe and that inspires our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is still with us today. JRS is a ministry of the Society of Jesus, and its role as part of the Society is clear. The ministry of JRS can inspire us to live the Universal Apostolic Preferences, drawing on the spirituality that motivated Father Arrupe to accompany the forcibly displaced, to give hope to young people, to shine a light on the connection of displaced sisters and brothers with the care of our earth.

The priorities of JRS – reconciliation, psychosocial support, education and livelihoods – embody the mission of the Society as expressed by recent General Congregations. The human, pedagogical, and spiritual service that JRS offers is urgent and must be outstanding — not because of our standards or donors’ requirements, but because those whom we serve deserve the best.

JRS’s advocacy always must aim to protect the human rights of forcibly displaced people. But in a world where the globalization of indifference has become normal, your words and work must help all of us to respond, and not bury what we have out of insecurity or fear.

This 40th anniversary of JRS is bittersweet. If the reign of God were fully present, there would be no need for JRS! Yet the urgency of the gospel compels us to continue our work.

On this special occasion:

  • I salute the millions of refugees who have been part of the JRS family over these 40 years. I hope and pray that what JRS has done with you and for you has made a difference for you, your families and your future.
  • I am grateful to tens of thousands of staff, volunteers, Jesuits and other religious who have responded to Father Arrupe’s urgent call and have been given more than they received through their displaced brothers and sisters.
  • I thank each of you participating today for being part of the JRS family, helping us to make a difference in a world that is complicated and hopeful.

May Our Lady of the Way keep us moving forward with the audacity of the impossible. We need that grace to follow in the footsteps of Father Arrupe and to respond to the challenges of Pope Francis so that we can better serve forcibly displaced people and refugees with great generosity and wisdom, using the talents that we have received and hoping to receive many more.