Fr Sacha Bermudez-Goldman SJ, former country director JRS Australia, baptises Risen, a Sri Lankan baby born in one of Australia's Immigration Detention Centres.
The two words that come to mind when I reflect on the last two years with JRS are hope and generosity. 

Recently, I baptised a beautiful baby boy, born to a Sri Lankan couple during their time in detention.  I had first met them on Christmas Island. When the baby was born, we agreed to baptise him as soon as they were granted protection and were let out. They decided to name their son Risen partly because he was born during the first week of Easter, but also because for them this name encapsulated the hope they had kept alive, against all odds, of a new life in a new and peaceful country. I have found this hope kept alive in the hearts of most of the asylum seekers and refugees I have met.  I used to ask myself and others, “how are you able to keep on hoping despite so many obstacles and seemingly insurmountable challenges?” until one day a refugee friend said to me “I have lost everything, but the one thing I choose not to lose is hope. It is the one choice I have left and I will hold on to it as long as I am sane.” 

During these past couple of years, I have also been struck by the constant generosity of those who are part of the wider JRS community: from staff to donors to the asylum seekers and refugee themselves who despite their own struggles are often able to care for one another.  Earlier this year, I was giving a talk to a group of kindergarten students about the plight of refugees.  I was not sure how much they had grasped, until a five-year old boy raised his hand and said “Father, if the refugees don’t have a place to stay, they can all come and stay with me and my family.” Easy solution! Or perhaps not, but the innocence of that remark, and the incredible spirit of generosity it contained, represented for me an expression of what is possible if we all allow this generous spirit to imbue our lives. 

I believe one of the great gifts JRS offers is the possibility for both this hope and generosity to be maintained and to flourish, and that is a great benefit for those we accompany, serve and strive to give a voice.  But it is also a great gift for us, for it means that we too live our own lives in hope and surrounded by charity, big-heartedness and kindness. 

Sacha Bermudez-Goldman SJ, former country director JRS Australia

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