I am sorry for not having been able over the past days to keep up posting messages. I am involved – in the Jesuit Retreat Centre of Drongen near Ghent – in a workshop with a group of Little Sisters of Nazareth. These remarkable women form a small religious congregations, inspired by the spirituality of Charles de Foucault and the social commitment of Cardinal Joseph Cardijn (“see, judge, act”). They are involved in poor areas in Ghent, Antwerpen, Paris and Barcelona, as well as in poor barrios in Venezuela and in refugee camps in Lebanon. They asked me to reflect with them on the theme of violence. We have organized the workshop along two main lines: inputs on conflict transformation and sustainable peace building, and a discernment process about how they as a religious congregations and in their fraternities (communities) experience their community building processes as a service to peace.
We touch our experiences of violence (as victims, as perpetrators, as witnesses, as bystanders) and share those, to discover how our experiences are to all of us and to our communities as well as to the people we serve, a gift of God. This requires in depth encounters, in which we humbly learn to be open to one another, because precisely that openness is part of our service to peace building. We also try to connect serious reflection and analysis to the experiences of compassion – both need to complement each other, as reflection without compassion looses its heart, while compassion without reflection risks to reduce one’s commitment to simply tending wounds (working on symptoms) without reaching out to the causes of violence. I feel how much I have been learning during my 7 years work in the now defunct MaCSP programme at the K.U.Leuven: Luc Reychler’s emphasis on Peace Architecture, René Bouwen’s insistence on Relational Constructionism, and Stephan Parmentier’s perspective of restorative justice, together with Elias Lopez’ work on political forgiveness and reconciliation, and on networking between the field, the academy and the decision-makers in a qualified relational peace advocacy network, have led us to the metaphors of peace building as community building along a line that goes from separating borderlines to connecting frontier spaces, and as inspired by the mestizo-theology developed by Virgilio Elizondo. I have had the honour to work with these inspiring people and they have deeply influenced my understanding of religious life as community building with the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity as the rules of the game of community building.
We have used to excellent movies during the workshop: Robert Redford’s The Motorcycle Diaries relating the compassionate experiences of the young Che Guevara in the face of suffering encountered during a motorcycle trip through Latin America (the metaphor of border and frontier is clearly present where the Amazone river separates in a leper colony the caretakers and the patients), and Robert Chelsom’s The Mighty an empowering movie about the friendship between two kids who, through the story of King Arthur’s knights of the round table, learn to creatively approach reality in the midst of their pains and sufferings and of the violence that is part of their lives.