An article by Fr David Townsend, sj, pastor of the English-speaking community at Seven Fountains Retreat House, Chiangmai, Thailand:
One thing is clear: refugees are dangerous people.
All governments instinctively realise this fact. Why else do nations and their media treat refugees as unwanted criminals, the source of all evils in the countries they enter?
Once they enter your life, as they did mine, they change a person, as they did me. They challenge deeply held, albeit probably largely unexamined, assumptions and presumptions. Just by being who they are, refugees will discover for you that many of these assumptions and presumptions are empty of true value, and even full of unseen violence. Let a refugee enter your life and touch it, a person will no longer be able, without terrible violence to the self, to view the world and its mechanisms from the comfortable viewpoint of before.
Refugees rewrite the history of the world, from the point of view of the dispossessed and powerless. Refugees enable people, like myself, to begin to re-configure our own lives, again from the point of view of the disadvantaged, unwanted and marginalised.
Refugees are dangerous because they mediate conversion, change. And personal change implies change in all and every aspect of life. For many, this is a most disturbing reality.
This is, of course, a highly charged spiritual process of conversion and of subsequent adjustment to the call of that Divine Reality Christians call 'The Father'. Other faith traditions and other people of good will have their own ways of referring to this personal experience. The call is to see every human being as a sister or brother, children of the same 'Father', to remove
violence far from ourselves.
Refugees reveal the sin of the world, and what the violence of sin does to human beings, ourselves included. Refugees reveal the structural sin embedded in the world's contemporary systems, be they political, economic, military, educational, social, medical, etc. Despite the good efforts of so many good, intelligent, well-qualified and well-motivated people using their talents and their efforts to improve society, refugees reveal the rottenness at the heart of all systems. Above all refugees reveal, to those who dare to be touched by them, the complicity, again often not noticed, of all people, myself included, in this sin of the world. Refugees reveal a task still to be accomplished.
So, my refugees friends, whom I deeply admire for your incredible courage, resilience, creativity and humanity, a huge 'Thank You'. Your retention of your own humanity despite your often appalling treatment and experiences, is, for me, a mystery of the power of God's tremendous loving compassion in your lives, and is a challenge to a world so clearly in need of loving compassion. I thank my Jesuit superiors and JRS for allowing me the opportunity to meet you, to know you, and to be touched by you. Above all, thank you, my refugee friends, for befriending me.