The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
(Isaiah 9.2, New Catholic Bible)
I was blessed with the opportunity to visit JRS Romania earlier this month. As cold weather and airborne destruction descend upon Ukraine, more people must leave, and many find their way to JRS in Bucharest.
Our office there is a multipurpose building surrounded by homes and apartments. It’s the busiest JRS office I’ve ever seen: days filled with staff meeting needs, programs being offered, Ukrainians and Romanians and others working side-by-side. Next door is the old office and dormitory, being rebuilt to meet the needs of current refugees. The spirit is generous, the care is tangible—JRS accompaniment in action.
One of the many off-site programs is an afternoon school program for Ukrainian children taking morning online classes. They meet in Romanians schools, learning math, art, Romanian, English. Their teachers are Ukrainian, forced to flee as well. I met the head teacher, who told me clearly and passionately, Thank you for letting us teach. Thank you for treating us as human beings. We don’t want to be treated as refugees.
For her, being treated as a refugee means being left out, left to fend for oneself. Our mission is the opposite; those forced to flee are our sisters and brothers. By walking with them, we support their hope, the hope for a better life that led them to leave home. Thank you for walking with them and with us, so that even in the midst of an imperfect and sometimes hostile world, hope does not fail.
I wish each of you a joyful and hope-filled 2023.
Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, SJ
JRS International Director