18 June 2016
“Since the Jesuit Refugee Service is engaged in a mission which is both humanitarian and in the field of education, in the service of the underprivileged of our society; and since this service is in keeping with the spirit of the Charter of the University, I propose to you, Mr. Rector, to grant to the Jesuit Refugee Service, here represented by Fr. Michael Zammit, the Regional Director of the JRS in the Middle- East the title of ‘Doctor Honoris Causa’ from the University of Saint Joseph”, were the concluding words of the citation read out by the Vice-Rector of the University. A thunderous applause followed, as Fr. Zammit received the doctorate Honoris Causa on behalf of the JRS from Dr. Salim Daccache sj, the Rector of St. Joseph’s University, at an impressive ceremony on June 17th, 2016 in Beirut, Lebanon.
It is rather unusual for an organisation to be receiving a ‘doctorate’; more so, when the focus of attention is its work with the refugees and forcibly displaced persons. But as the citation emphatically stated, “in this Middle East region badly affected by war, the JRS is very present, with a Regional office located in Beirut in the premises of the Jesuit Church, and teams on the ground in Lebanon (Beirut, Jbeil, Bekaa), Syria (Aleppo, Damascus and Homs), in Iraq (Erbil), Jordan (Amman) and Turkey. Twelve Jesuits from eight different nationalities are assigned to this service of refugees in our region and they work in coordination with hundreds of lay collaborators together serving all those who are forced to live on the margins of humanity. They strive to overcome borders and divisions, be they geographical, cultural, racial or religious. It is with love and compassion that JRS teams engage with people of all races, cultures and religions, with particular attention to the poorest of them.”
The citation went on to trace the history and the work of the JRS the world over; of how it takes its inspiration from the compassion and love of Jesus for the poor and the excluded: "I was hungry and you have shared your bread, I was a stranger and you have welcomed me...". » (Matt. 25) and above all, of how it is in sync with the Charter of the University of St. Joseph.
In his acceptance speech Fr. Zammit said, “I am very honoured to receive, this honorary doctorate on behalf of the Jesuit Refugee Service. It is an appreciation of the services provided by JRS throughout the world (we are present in 48 countries), and especially of our work in this region Beyond this recognition, the University of Saint Joseph has also highlighted the plight of refugees and people displaced by the violence”
Further, Fr Zammit spoke about the three words which embody the spirit of the JRS (Accompany- Serve- Advocate) focussing on “In accompanying the refugees, by being touched by the reality of their lives in the camps, areas of conflict, the centres of detention or other places, that one can really understand how to serve and defend them at best. Pope Francis on a visit to the refugees on the island of Lesbos in April 2016 said to them ' you are not alone '.
Fr. Zammit paid tribute to those who work in the field saying “It is they who are in the focus of this evening. They sometimes work in very difficult conditions. I particularly remember those who are in Syria, and especially to those who are in Aleppo. They work with extraordinary dedication. When the shells fall nearby they stop for a while before resuming their activity as if nothing had happened.”
Responding later on the conferment of the doctorate Fr. Zammit said, “I'm extremely pleased with this honour bestowed on JRS by such a prestigious university in the Middle East. It shows that the university appreciates our work with refugees all over the world - it is an honour given to JRS internationally - and also for our work in the region, in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. By doing so, the university is also putting the "refugee question" at the centre of its activities”
For the many staffers of the JRS present at the Ceremony it was a significant moment. Eliane Youness the Office Administrator in the Regional Office sums it for all when she says, “this doctorate is a great recognition and appreciation of the work of JRS. It will surely give a boost to our work.”
So onwards Dr. Jesuit Refugee Service!