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Jesuit Father David Hollenbach
Fr. David Hollenbach, SJ: What We Can Learn from Jesuit Refugee Service

By Doris Yu

December 18, 2015 — On the day that Pope Francis launched the Year of Mercy, Jesuit Father David Hollenbach spoke at Georgetown University about “a human struggle underway in our world that surely calls us to respond with mercy and compassion, namely the struggle of refugees and other displaced persons.”

The lecture, titled “A Spirituality of Accompaniment: What We Can Learn from the Jesuit Refugee Service,” was followed by a question and answer session, Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and a reception. Fr. Hollenbach, who serves as director of Boston College's Center for Human Rights and International Justice and is the current Maguire Chair in Ethics and American History at the Library of Congress’ John W. Kluge Center, was introduced by his former student, Jesuit Father Kevin O’Brien.

“I join thousands of students around the world in thanking David for inspiring in us deeper thinking — which the world so desperately needs — on the urgent problems of today,” said Fr. O'Brien, Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Georgetown. Fr. O’Brien was a student of Fr. Hollenbach in graduate school and was inspired by him to write a thesis on the spirituality of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and a theological reflection on the organization’s work. “We thank him for reminding us that our faith must be one that does justice,” Fr. O’Brien said.


Jesuit Father Kevin O'Brien, Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Georgetown University, introduced Fr. Hollenbach’s lecture.

Fr. Hollenbach described the gravity of the refugee crisis worldwide and discussed the approach we should take in the context of our Christian background, drawing from the teachings and works of St. Ignatius and Pope Francis. “When people are in severe need, we should recognize that, as one theologian recently put it, ‘in Jesus Christ, there are no borders,’” Fr. Hollenbach said.

Reaching across borders to serve others is also a key part of Ignatian spirituality, according to Fr. Hollenbach. “In Ignatius’ words, ‘the more universal the good is, the more it is divine.’ The more one’s love reaches across borders, the more it is like God’s love for all men and all women,” he said.


Fr. Hollenbach drew on teachings from Pope Francis, St. Ignatius, and the Bible in his lecture.

He reflected on the theme of mercy and how it related to JRS’ “Mercy in Motion” advocacy and fundraising campaign to expand education programs for refugees. With Mercy in Motion, JRS hopes to nearly double the number of refugees it serves in educational programs (100,000 more) by the year 2020 through its ”Global Education Initiative.”

“Pope Francis’ repeated stress on the fact that mercy is a central aspect of the Christian vocation sheds light on how we should respond to refugees,” Fr. Hollenbach said. “Mercy is a key form of the love Jesus commands us to show toward our neighbors. Mercy is love extended to those who are suffering.”

He urged everyone to show mercy even for those who are foreign, especially in an increasingly globalized world. “There can be no escaping the encounter with diversity in our global age, nor can we avoid becoming aware of the struggles of the poor, the displaced, and all the others who lack the privileges of education and wealth that you and I have been given,” Fr. Hollenbach said.


Jesuit Father Leo O'Donovan, former Georgetown University president, delivered the homily during the Mass.

Following the lecture, Fr. O'Brien and Jesuit Father Leo O'Donovan, former Georgetown University president (1989-2001), celebrated Mass. "Is there any better answer to terrorism than education?" Fr. O’Donovan said in his homily. “We will never be home ourselves until [the refugees] find a home, too.”

To read the full text of Fr. Hollenbach’s lecture, click here. A video of the lecture is available below.





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