Praying with Refugees in Tamil Nadu, India
01 March 2013

A little contribution takes away decades of bitterness, injury, hatred and brokenness, and plays a role of transformation. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
I see the sunlight. I see my camp; children playing; people working. After 15 years I went to temple. I no longer remember anything of the past. Everything is new. I begin to forgive the perpetrators who forced me and thousands of others into decades of agony, inhuman discrimination and exile. I was half dead, now I have risen
Dindigul, 1 March 2013 – The three decades of conflict in Sri Lanka not only displaced a sizeable number of Tamils locally but also drove them to seek refuge in India. Today, more than 70,000 still live in 112 government camps in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Twenty years in this unnatural camp environment, characterised by uncertainty about the future, has aggravated problems of alcoholism, early school leaving and teenage marriage. The camps are not healthy environments; ill-treatment by locals and the stigma of being a refugee leave deep scars on the young and old alike. Yet it is the children, young girls and women who find themselves in the most vulnerable circumstances.

Rays of hope. "I see the sunlight. I see my camp; children playing; people working. After 15 years I went to temple. I no longer remember anything of the past. Everything is new. I begin to forgive the perpetrators who forced me and thousands of others into decades of agony, inhuman discrimination and exile. I was half dead, now I have risen", said Ms Muniyammal*, with tears welling up from her eyes.

During the Sri Lankan war Ms Muniyammal's spinal cord was severed by shrapnel. Confined to her bed in agony for many years, she had lost hope. She had no idea of what the camp looked like; she could only listen to the noise outside, until one JRS programme director noticed her condition and bought her a wheelchair.

A small gesture not only gives relief but brings out profound changes for reconciliation and a deeper relationship with God and fellow human beings. A little contribution takes away decades of bitterness, injury, hatred and brokenness, and plays a role of transformation. The scars of psychological trauma begin to heal. Through humanitarian services, the compassionate face of Jesus becomes visible and vividly present to people of other faiths and cultures.

As Mother Teresa said, the less privileged elderly need our care and help. Our little contribution will make their world happier and healthier. It is the spirit of resilience and hope for a better and brighter future, which gives meaning to refugees. Through its education, emergency relief, skills training, counselling and other programmes, JRS has been their beacon of hope.

Accompanying and serving refugees betrayed by the world is a daunting task. We encounter aggression, vulgar language, defensiveness and groupism. When we delve into their life experiences we find their deep spirituality of hope. When children and young people progress in life against all odds, our joy knows no bounds.

"We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something", said Saint Mother Teresa.

"As refugees we're made to feel good for nothing to our home countries; in our host countries we're a burden to the local government just waiting to get rid of us; fodder for the media, we offer petty politicians an opportunity to sensationalise our plight for their survival; but for JRS – we're precious persons to be respected and treated with dignity and rights", said Santhia*, a young refugee girl, summing up the philosophy and spirituality of JRS.

Fr Louie, JRS Tamil Nadu

*Names have been changed to protect identities of the persons involved

Reflections for prayer
A Prayer to Sense the Mind of Christ

Above all, give me that sensus Christi – the sensing of Christ about which St Paul speaks: that I may feel with your feelings, with the sentiments of your heart, which basically are love for your Father and love for humanity.

Teach me your way of relating to disciples, to sinners, to children, to Pharisees, Pilates and Herods.

Teach me how you deal with your disciples. How delicately you treat them on Lake Tiberias, even preparing breakfast for them! How you washed their feet!

May I learn from you and from your ways, as St Ignatius did: how to eat and drink; how to attend banquets; how to act when hungry or thirsty, when tired from the ministry, when in need of rest or sleep.

Teach me how to be compassionate to the suffering, to the poor, the blind, the lame and the lepers.

Teach me your way of looking at people: as you glanced at Peter after his denial, as you penetrated the heart of the rich young man and the hearts of your disciples.

We have to learn from you the secret of a close bond or union with God: in the more trivial, everyday actions, with that total dedication to loving the Father and all humanity.

Give me that grace, that sensus Christi, your very heartbeat, that I may live all my life, interiorly and exteriorly, proceeding and discerning with your spirit, exactly as you did during your mortal life.
Pedro Arrupe SJ


Scripture for reading
He rescued us from such great danger of death,
and he will continue to rescue us;
in him we have put our hope he will also rescue us again,
as you help us with prayer,
so that thanks may be given by many on our behalf
for the gift granted us through the prayers of many.