By Dan Corrou, SJ
Dan Corrou, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic in his second year of theology studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. In 2014, he returned to the U.S. after three years of working with the Jesuits in the Middle East, responding to the influx of Syrian refugees who flooded Lebanon and the surrounding areas to escape violence. Earlier this year, he spoke at a Jesuit Connection event, about how his time in a city far from home allowed him to connect deeply with Ignatius' calling to go where needs are greatest while always serving on the peripheries.
The center of my life must be on the margins. Wherever people are forgotten and pushed to the periphery, I must find my home. As a Jesuit, and as a person inspired by Ignatian spirituality, I am called to center myself on the periphery, a spiritual exercise of always being off-balance, always being a little outside my depth.
In Dec. 2010, when I was assigned to study the Arabic language for three years with the Jesuits in the Middle East Province, Syria was a stable nation; no one had ever heard of the “Arab Spring,” and we considered the military dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to be secure for life. Then things changed.
Jesuit Refugee Service staff work with young displaced Syrians in Homs. Sports and other activities help provide a sense of normalcy to children in an atmosphere of chaos.
In 2011 there were few Syrians who came to Lebanon, but by 2012, as the war grew more violent, the refugees began pouring into this tiny, fragile country. We started by collecting blankets and food and distributing them to Syrians we met. The program became more organized when Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) opened its operations, and when we began formal food distribution, and later opened schools and community centers. JRS continues to do extraordinary work inside Syria with those who cannot flee, as well as Lebanon, Jordan, and now in Europe. It was a great blessing to work with the JRS during my time in Lebanon. I learned so much from the people with whom we worked. As an American Jesuit scholastic, I learned about home from refugees, and I realized I was learning about God from Muslims.
The Jesuit connection to the Middle East goes back to our earliest history as a religious order. This land was an important step in the conversion of St. Ignatius. This land, and the work that was outside my traditional understanding of the Church, became my center. The people fleeing a violent war in their homeland became my teachers as they invited me into their lives.
Syrian refugees supported by Jesuit Refugee Service in Byblos, Lebanon.