In the heart of the Jesuit Province of Canada, a multitude of individuals find their lives intertwined with the profound spirituality of Saint Ignatius. This series (first article here) aims to shed light on these unique journeys, offering a glimpse into the diverse ways Ignatian spirituality shapes and guides lives. Now, we turn our focus to Tevfik Karatop. His path has led him from a Muslim upbringing to a deep immersion in Christian spirituality, and ultimately, to a pivotal role within the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). Tevfik has a Master of Divinity from the Montreal Diocesan Theological College and has been project manager for JRS since 2022.
Our apostolic planning document, Pilgrims Together, emphasizes the call to deeper listening. It states, “In our walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, we have discovered a strong desire to be in closer relationship: to listen to, stand beside and befriend.” This sentiment deeply resonates with Tevfik. For him, Ignatian spirituality permeates every facet of his life, empowering him to truly listen to the people he serves.
What is your relationship to Christian spirituality?
I’m a latecomer to Christianity. I grew up as a Muslim and later became Christian, so I didn’t experience church culture until the age of 25.
For me, spirituality is not something you go home and “do.” It’s not just about going to church on Sunday. Spirituality should be a priority in day-to-day life. For example, discernment is an integral part of my job at JRS. It guides us in how we speak about refugees and demand justice for them.
Spirituality is not something you go home and “do.”
In your experience, what is the uniqueness of Ignatian spirituality and how do you live it?
We Christians love to talk about God’s call. God calls each of us in different ways. If we want to hear God’s voice and if we are ready to accompany people in their specific contexts, Ignatian spirituality offers great tools that enable us to listen to people’s voices.
Regarding refugees, for example, we generally don’t like to hear their voices. There are 100 million refugees, and there are 100 million voices. Unfortunately, because of structural injustices, we cannot hear their voices.
Ignatian spirituality offers great tools that enable us to listen to people’s voices.
At JRS, we offer people an opportunity to hear the voices and stories of refugees through our simulation exercise as well as through our work. We help to resettle people who are looking for safety, security, and hopefully a peaceful life for their families. We want to hear and listen to their stories: they are lucky, but we are lucky, too. When I welcome these people at the airport, as they experience their first moments of safety and security, I find God there; but not in a way that objectifies them for my sense of spirituality or for my organizational purposes. It is a genuine privilege to welcome these resilient people who are brave enough to take huge risks in order to offer their children a normal elementary school education or to enable one of their family members to find a job.
Listening to people is not only the basis of our spirituality, it is also a priority in our work at JRS. Growing up as a queer boy in Turkey, I obviously have my own story, but I am more interested in listening to the stories of other people. And I believe that the richness of Ignatian spirituality provides the resources to do this.