On Saturday 18th August we celebrated the Feast Day of St Alberto Hurtado, a Chilean Jesuit who is perhaps relatively unknown to many here in the UK. To be very honest, the first time I actually heard of him was when I started working at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre in Wapping, which is the home of JRS UK.
Like many of our saints, Hurtado’s life was dedicated to serving Christ through tending to the needs of the poor. However, what sets him apart, perhaps even from the greatest of saints, was that he was acutely aware of the innate human need to find support in the people around us; that we are dependent on one another. Therefore, Hurtado committed himself to forming communities where people could find support and acceptance. He was, in that way, a living embodiment of the solidarity the Church promotes in its social teaching; the solidarity that is one of JRS’s core values.
This solidarity is a recognition of our social nature as human beings, meaning that, although we are individuals, we form part of a wider human family upon which we all rely. Solidarity is the commitment to ensure this human family grows in unity through an active promotion of the common good, where each of us lives with a responsibility for the wellbeing of one another.
In his Encyclical Letter, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, St John Paul II asserted that solidarity ‘is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all’.
JRS expresses its solidarity through its mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of those navigating a complex and often cruel asylum process. Accompaniment allows us to walk alongside our refugee friends, sharing in their pain, frustrations and joys; the things that we all share through our common humanity. Our service is done with humility, attempting to help mitigate the effects of the injustices our friends face on a daily basis. Our advocacy highlights the damage our existing asylum policies have on the individuals we accompany and how such measures are a betrayal of the common good. Our threefold mission is therefore intended to be solidarity put into action; a practical expression of the commitment of the Society of Jesus to those whose needs are neglected, in violation of both their individual rights and the common good.
At JRS UK we need look no further than the saint whose name adorns our building’s entrance for an example as to how to live out this mission of solidarity in our daily work. St Alberto Hurtado’s life is proof of the power and value of solidarity. I hope that his life continues to be an inspiration for the outreach work we do at JRS; following his example to work in solidarity with those we serve and that through sharing their stories with a wider audience, we may continue to remind ourselves of our responsibility for the wellbeing of each other.