At JRS UK’s centre in Wapping, this large beautiful painting of Saint Alberto Hurtado hangs in the dining area. It is there because the centre is named after him. It is located on the wall, just to the left of the serving hatch, where the refugee friends used to receive a hot lunch every Thursday. Now this space is at the centre of the JRS shop.
Whilst he was missioned to JRS UK, Rene De los Reyes SJ composed the painting, which depicts Hurtado’s famous green pick-up truck. Every day this truck would tour the streets of Santiago collecting children who had been abandoned. Gradually it developed from bringing them to an overnight home – to including a network of schools and hostels, which were built up under the name: Hogar de Cristo. This network helped well over a million people and is still very active in Chile today.
He’s a saint that I would really like to follow.
When I used to queue for my lunch with the refugee friends, I looked at this painting and I used to think how the children in Santiago must have longed to hear that green pick-up truck coming to collect them for a meal and a night’s peace and rest. It must have been a powerful symbol of hope and love. I think of the joy they must have felt when they heard it and realised it was coming their way.
I love that our JRS centre is a giver of joy and hope like that for the refugee friends who come. But, we have no green truck – they have to come by bus or walk. Before the pandemic, over a a hundred refugee friends came each week to have lunch, chat to others, meet with advisers, and look through donated items for what they need.
I hope we will always be a place of welcome, joy, and hope for the destitute refugees that we serve here in Wapping.
So, it is very appropriate that the JRS UK centre is named after Alberto Hurtado. He was someone who understood those in need and brought to life in Chile the three JRS missions; service to those in need, accompanying them in their distress, and working to change the situation in which they are trapped.
A brief history of Alberto Hurtado SJ:
St Alberto Hurtado’s feast day is on August 18th, the anniversary of his death in 1952 when he was just 51 years old. He was made a saint in 2005.
Alberto Hurtado was born in 1901, and grew up in poverty. Helped by scholarships, he took a law degree in labour law in 1923. Together with other law students, he set up a legal bureau to provide support and advice to labourers in difficulty – in some ways similar to the new legal team at JRS UK. He then became a Jesuit, and was ordained a priest in 1933. He completed his doctorate in 1936 and became a professor in the University of Santiago. He became aware of the difficulties facing the church in Chile, and it was at this time that he founded the Hogar de Cristo (Home of Christ), which housed children in need of food and shelter. Hogar de Cristo still flourishes today – currently serving over 25,000 people in need.
In the context of a hostile immigration policy, many seeking asylum in the UK find themselves and their families at risk of detention or destitution. Those who work with refugees often understand their role as, at core, one of accompaniment: being with and for the other.
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