In the Center, But on the Peripheries

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.
Amidst transition, I was very grateful for my Jesuit brothers. There are about 120 Jesuits in the Middle East Province, and most of them are from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Just like Jesuits in the U.S., they run schools, parishes, formation centers, and University St. Joseph in Beirut. These Jesuits from the Middle East became tremendous friends and taught me so much. Not only was I called to learn Arabic and improve my French, but also I yearned to learn about the diversity of Eastern Christianity and its profound insights into prayer and liturgy. I also needed to learn to be a Christian in a Muslim-majority environment. So much that had been peripheral to my life needed to become the center of my vocation.

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.
We were all horrified at the summer 2015 images of Aylan Kurdi, the small boy who drowned while trying to get to Greece, and whose body was washed onto the shores of Turkey. Having seen these images, I was reminded that this periphery––this refugee boy who, on that beach, literally died on the margins––needed to be the center of our concern. This child, just one of millions of children forced to flee their homes, must be the center of my life and the focus of my work. Only then will I be off-balance enough––and far enough out of my depth––to begin to glimpse the greatness of God. For this God who called me to be a Jesuit, calls each of us to clothe the naked, house the homeless, feed the hungry and accompany the lonely. God’s loving call to each of us is to make the peripheries of our world the center of our concern.

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