Within a few months, and accompanied by several signs from heaven, a dream took shape and is now becoming a reality: On 9th of May three sisters from three different European countries are taking off to their mission at the service of refugees in Greece. In cooperation with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) they will strive to be “in communion with the marginalized and excluded” at the very edge of the migrant’s existence in a country that is crisis-shaken itself. Greece, located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa seems to be the place where the Spirit is leading us SSpS at this moment of our common global history.
In preparation for their pioneer mission, the three Sisters – Sr. Ada Lick (Austria), Sr. Rastislava Kurajová (Slovakia), and Sr. Clara Silalahi (Spain, native Indonesian) – met for five days of community building in the Motherhouse in Steyl. A fourth sister, Sr. Preethi Silva (India North East), is still going through the visa process and will hopefully join her fellow sisters in Greece soon. The days in Steyl were prepared and accompanied by Sr. Anna-Maria Kofler (Provincial Leader Germany, Euro Council Chair) and Sr. Maria José Rebello (Regional Leader Spain/Portugal, Euro Councillor). Also, Fr. Jose Ignacio Garcia SJ (Brussels, director of JRS in Europe) was present for two days.
Goals of the days in Steyl were to grow in awareness of the personal call to serve the refugees in Greece, to become familiar with the process of discernment, decision, goals, and objectives of the “dream” project, and to begin the process of community building through praying, sharing, and enjoying together. In an atmosphere of openness and mutual respect the sisters shared about their personal strengths, weaknesses, and coping mechanisms, as well as about their motives to offer themselves for the project, or the fears they experience in front of this great endeavour. Inputs about the last General Chapter Directions and our Founding Generation’s attitude towards marginalized were given as well. Since the meeting took place in Steyl, it was a good opportunity to take time for prayer and recharging at the roots of our Congregation and the Founder’s tomb.
Thanks to the valued presence of Fr. Jose Ignacio Garcia the sisters received good insights into the vision and mission of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), with whom they will be working closely in Athens. In fact, it is because of the connection with the JRS that the dream of a missionary presence in Greece comes to its fulfilment within such a short time. The JRS is present in 15 European countries. Their main concern is to provide refugees access to protection, to contribute to social inclusion, to assure detention support and visitation, and to assist in communication and advocacy. In Greece, there are presently around 60,000 (sixty thousand) migrants, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Yet, their number is expected to be halved by the end of 2018 due to relocation to other European countries and illegal moving. The government does not collaborate much with non-governmental organisations as the JRS. Further, being an Orthodox country (90% of the population is Orthodox) Catholic religious are a marginal phenomenon in Greece. Even though there happened to be other NGO’s and lay people volunteering besides the JRS, the whole setting is not yet well coordinated and organised. It is a “shaking system”, as Fr. Jose Ignacio put it, “and you can be one more bubble in this shaking system, offering support to those in need”.
Our sisters will be living in one floor of a JRS house. Another floor accommodates two afghan families while the rest of the rooms are reserved for offices and activities. As our sisters get in touch with the refugees around, they will encounter many different realities in detention camps, shelters, and illegally occupied houses. Their service to the people may be as various: getting in touch, empowering mothers and children, or facilitating life, for example by providing a computer with internet for people to Skype their loved ones at home. “There will be times in which your skills are needed, but most of all your love”, as Fr. Jose Ignacio predicted. He encouraged the sisters to accept the personal limitations they may feel in front of their mission, as these would make them more humble and closer to the people, who are faced with limitations in so many ways.
During the sending Eucharist with the Motherhouse Community, Sr. Anna-Maria reminded everyone present of the prophetic message that radiates from the new mission in Greece as she addressed the pioneer sisters: “With you something new for us in Europe is beginning”. Their readiness has an impact on all the European SSpS provinces and regions. The country of Greece will take on a different meaning for us and our understanding of mission in Europe, precisely in this time where so much is in question. Fr. Jose Ignacio drew a parallel to the happening of every Eucharist, when he said that both the Eucharist and the sisters’ sending is a sign to the world that there is a future. A future, which ultimately does not depend on our capacities, but is rooted in the love of God. “Your going to Greece is a small sacrament!”, he concluded. The depth and truth of these words were tangible in the whole atmosphere of the Eucharist, not least because of the song and prayer of surrender by the sisters, who are going on behalf of us all. May our prayers accompany them!
Sr. Michaela Leifgen, SSpS – Germany
For further information:
Reliable data about the situation of refugees in Greece and the whole Mediterranean area, provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): http://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean
JRS Ellada: Facebook Page JRS in Greece, where we can expect to see pictures of our sisters and their activities soon: https://www.facebook.com/jrsgreece/