Michael Czerny S.J.
Founding Director of AJAN 2002-2010
Under-Secretary, Migrants and Refugees Section, https://migrants-refugees.va/
Today is Easter, and our risen Lord Jesus wishes each and everyone peace. His gift of shalom includes gratitude. I am grateful for repeatedly experiencing new life and so living Easter over and over again. This Sunday, with intense gratitude for the privilege given to me, like every Christian, to live new life over and over again, I reflect on the years since AJAN began.
In 2002, Africa seemed doomed by HIV/AIDS. My mission was to establish the new African Jesuit AIDS Network. Ever so slowly, people both infected and affected began testifying, “I was as good as dead, but thanks to the Catholic parish / school / clinic, I’ve risen and come back to life.” AJAN, networking Jesuits and colleagues, was becoming real, was coming alive.
Part way through that period, following drawn-out years of decline, my mother died peacefully. Her living legacy includes the “Winifred Czerny Library” at the Centre Espérance Loyola in Lomé.
After the II Synod for Africa in October 2009, Pope Benedict named Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana to serve as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and I was asked to be his counsellor or, as Jesuits say, his socius which is Latin for friend. Two great encyclicals highlighted this period and focused much of our work: Caritas in Veritate of Pope Benedict XVI and Laudato si’ of Pope Francis.
In mid-2010, I had a serious heart attack but was lucky to come back and Jesus’s Easter message turns out to be the most important therapy for recovering from a cardiac episode: fear not!
In mid-2016, Pope Francis combined Justice and Peace with three other Pontifical Councils to form the new Dicastery or department for promoting Integral Human Development. Cardinal Turkson is the prefect. Integral human development sums up what everyone wants for themselves, their families, their kids, their community. It is included in Jesus’s gift and purpose, too: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
In the new department there’s a section on migrants and refugees. Pope Francis put Fr Fabio Baggio (a Scalabrini priest) and me in charge. With him leading us, we have discovered our human duty in the face of every form of suffering that afflicts our sisters and brothers: we should welcome, protect, promote and integrate all who need loving help to attain their integral human development.
And in this period, I contracted a pneumonia which took several weeks in the hospital to cure and several months of diagnosis to resolve. Forced to slow down (a bit), I was happy to appreciate all over again that risen life is real life, which is also what migrants and refugees are striving for.
On a recent World AIDS Day, Pope Francis appealed “that all may adopt responsible behaviour to prevent the further spread of this disease.” To them, to all of us, Christ says “I am with you as you seek mercy and try to live a more living life for yourself and for the infected, the affected and the vulnerable around you.” This is the responsible behaviour which Pope Francis urges everyone to adopt.
In my personal life and in the work that has been my vocation, there are many occurrences of dying and death, of rebirth or resurrection. With his Mother at the foot of the Cross, Jesus breathed his last “It is finished”, and on the third day he overcame death. The signature of the risen Jesus is “Shalom, fear not, It is I — peace be with you, don’t be afraid, I am with you.”
In my new work with migrants and refugees, Pope Francis says each of us, individually and communally, is responsible to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate them. Don’t these four active verbs also apply to those with HIV or AIDS and their people, the infected and the affected?
Shalom, fear not, and Happy Easter!
Click here for French Version: La Vie Pascale