“The refugees teach me that life always wins”

In a effort to reflect on the life, policies and practices of the European Union, JESC presents a set of interviews with the Social Delegates from provinces all over Europe. We invite you to read the interview with Stanko Perica SJ, Social Delegate for the Jesuit Province of Croatia and Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) for Southeast Europe.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in 1983 and brought up in a wonderful family in Rijeka, Croatia. After finishing the faculty of law, I worked for three and half year in a law office practicing civil law, and then I entered the Jesuit novitiate. The thing that attracted me was seeing how the Jesuits have always during the course of history found the way to be concrete and efficient.  

2. Describe yourself in three words.

Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

3. Can you give us a brief description of your professional background and current work?

I was always very attracted to the social reality, from theoretical and concrete viewpoint. Social interactions are something that intrigue me and that led me to study law, to find more about the basics of social arrangement. This connects very well with my current work at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), a humanitarian organisation dedicated to offer the essential Christian social services to the refugees: to accompany, to serve and to advocate. 


4. What led you to the work with refugees?

It was the Providence and the discernment of my Provincial. I myself thought that someone more experienced would be more fitted for the position of the regional JRS director, since I had very high regard for that function. During the refugee wave through the Balkans route in 2015/16 I was studying in Rome and was volunteering within Centro Astalli. It never occurred to me than that in few years I’ll be in such a responsible position.   

5. Can you share one meaningful experience or teaching you had while working with refugees?

The simplicity and the desire for life are the two moments that surprise me over and over again. Since I’m directing country offices that are situated on the route where refugees travel mainly on foot, I often encounter those that have passed great distances, living in miserable conditions, but without resentment or fear. To them life is too valuable to spend it on trivialities. It’s hard to imagine a better life lesson.


6. How would you say that your work is inspired by your faith?

First, I’d say it inspires my faith, especially the example of trust in the Providence that the refugees offer so often. On the other hand, my faith gives me great energy when it comes to being there for a human being in need and recognising God in a stranger. In fact, only now I’m starting to understand why the concept of stranger is so important in the Bible, and why a stranger presents an important “locus theologicus”.  

7. What do you have to say about your new appointment and which projects do you wish to carry out with this new role?

The refugee’s situation in our context is dynamic and calls always for adjustments and adaptations in order to be efficient, to achieve magis. This winter the circumstances in the migrant camps in Bosnia is especially heart-breaking. The closure and subsequent fire at the camp Lipa, near Croatian border, has left thousands of people without shelter and protection, amid dropping winter temperatures. Although JRS is one of the most active organisations on the field, there’s much more to be done in terms of advocacy and awareness raising.

Refugees in camp

8. What social justice and related projects are you and your Province involved in?

Beside JRS, there’s “Bishop Josip Lang Foundation”, headed by Fr. Mijo Nikić, whose main project is “Lang’s Home” for the elderly, sick and abandoned. It was hit very hard in recent earthquake, since it’s situated not very far from the epicentre. The third big association is “Kap dobrote” (A drop of goodness) founded by famous late Fr. Antun Cvek, which helps the neediest elderly and poor people by visiting them, accompanying and providing basic needs.  

9. How can faith-based organizations raise awareness and serve as change-makers for the most vulnerable?

I’d say by using and developing our comparative advantages, like theological foundations, centuries of experience and wide network of volunteers. Also, in this “liquid reality”, the core values that we uphold, like human dignity, equality, mentality that avoids conflicts but grows trough crisis, are those that are needed maybe more than ever. 

men standing    

10. What are the pressing challenges you hope to tackle as Social Delegate of the Jesuit Province of Croatia?

As in all post-communist countries we have those typical challenges when it comes to the social action, since the reality of civil society is relatively new to us and, beside helping the poor, we’re not used to see the Church involved in the other types of social action. So, for example, it will be quite challenging to work on the fourth apostolic preference (Caring for our Common Home), but also very interesting to try. 

11. What do you want the future to look like?

I hope it will be challenging enough to bring the best out of us. I’m quite optimistic because I believe, and the refugees teach me that constantly, that the life always wins. I hope the future will bring the circumstances in which every life will be treated with more respect, more reverence. To accomplish that we’ll need to find the ways to live in a more modest and humble way. That future is hard to imagine, but the life will ensure it, sooner or later.     

12. There is any special moment you are looking forward to?

Often when I look at my agenda I’m filled with awe and wonder. So many people to meet, so many opportunities, so many things to share and receive. And just to imagine how more intense everything will be when the pandemic calms! This ever-growing pile of unmerited God’s gifts fills me with consolation and joy.  

men thinking

Thank you very much for providing us all with a very valuable insight, and thank you for accepting our invitation to participate in this interview.

Interview by Soraia Ribeiro
JESC Communications Officer