Presentation on theme: "International Assembly of Faith and Light Lourdes, France October 11 to 17, 2008 In this booklet, we tried to the best of our ability to reflect the presentations,"— Presentation transcript:
International Assembly of Faith and Light Lourdes, France October 11 to 17, 2008 In this booklet, we tried to the best of our ability to reflect the presentations, the discussions, the atmosphere and the decisions made during the meeting. We thank those who supplied us with pictures and testimonies. This booklet constitute a memento for all of those who participated in the events described, and a testimony of its wonders for all those who will read it. Set Sail… Let us dream of a world where those who are far away from each other are united in friendship, of a world where no one is isolated or put aside, where those who are helpless are supported, and where those who suffer are comforted. Let us dream of a world where everyone is part of a supportive community. To make this dream to reality, one must move forward. The danger is to stay inward looking. If we want to open up to others and to grow, we must set out and march together, not only as a community, but as a province and also as a big international family. Let us begin our pilgrimage towards the kingdom of God. To live is to undertake the adventure to which God is calling us, despite all our weaknesses, to be fruitful one towards the other. Our wisdom is to act with a view to the future: to reach out beyond our communities, beyond the walls that divide this world: religions, disabilities, races, social classes, sexual differences… To be open and fruitful to others is to believe that God, is patiently with us. More information on the General Assembly is available on the Faith and Light Web Site: The Internet version of this booklet is available at: To print this booklet, download the following Power Point version:
Lourdes The whole week, we discussed, shared, reflect on our identity and mission in the context of pilgrims walking toward a renewed life. Coming back to the essence of who we are is a Faith process, directed toward the mission of today and tomorrow according to the spirit of the founders. The delegates of Faith and Light gathered to elect those who were to take over the new responsibility of the movement for the next five years. This was a way to address a feeling of uneasiness that began in Rome (2002) and became more marked in Madrid (2006). Part of the reason for this feeling was the decision of Jean Vanier and Marie-Hélène Mathieu to retire as leaders of Faith and Light and the recognition that the old Constitution was no longer responding to the needs of the movement which has expanded in all the continents. This is why, in July 2006, the General Assembly in Madrid gave to a Task Force (page 22) the mandate to develop a new Constitution. Then we would choose a new team to implement it. “We are witnessing the second birth of Faith and Light” said Marie-Hélène at the end of the vote on the new Constitution. It is obvious that changes of that magnitude generate various feelings: enthusiasm, fear, disorientation, and even anguish. This week, we took care of each other during the different steps that lead us to a renewal of our movement. Each day, a theme related to change was developed. “The small boat of Faith and Light once started its journey, guided by the Spirit” said father Guy. “May the same Spirit continue to guide and inspire us as He has since the pilgrimage in 1971”. We asked the Spirit to accompany each one of us in the choices that we had to make this week. AFRICA CAPRICORN : South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, RDC Lubumbashi AFRICA GREAT LAKE : Rwanda, Burundi, RDC Kivu, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania AFRICA NOT REGROUPED : Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone ASIA EAST : South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan ASIA SOUTH EAST : Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Pakistan ENGLAND NORTH: England North, Scotland ENGLAND SOUTH : England South, Wales BETWEEN THE SEAS : Ukraine, Slovakia, Russia, Georgia, Czech Republic, Lithuania BELGIUM : Belgium BRAZIL CENTRAL : Central Brazil BRAZIL NORTH EAST : North East Brazil BRAZIL SOUTH: South Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay CANADA EAST : Canada East, Martinique, Haiti CANADA WEST : Canada West CENTRAL AMERICA : Mexico, Honduras, Dominican Republic DANUBE : Hungary, Romania (Hungarian), Romania (Romanian), Serbia EGYPT NORTH : Egypt North, Sudan EGYPTE SOUTH : Egypt south FRANCE BETWEEN TWO SEAS : France Between Two Seas FRANCE CENTRE : France Centre FRANCE EAST : France East FRANCE ÎLE DE FRANCE: Ile de France West FRANCE LOIRE RHÔNE AUVERGNE : France Loire Rhône Auvergne Provisional Provinces FRANCE NORTH : France North FRANCE PARIS : Paris & le Levant FRANCE RHONE AZUR : France Rhône Azur FRANCE WEST : France West GERMAN COUNTRIES : Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria INDIAN OCEAN : Madagascar, Reunion Island, Mauritius Island, Seychelles Island, Rodriguez Island IRELAND : Ireland ITALY CENTRE : Italy (Center part), Greece, Cyprus ITALIE NORTH : Italy (South part), Switzerland, Croatia ITALIE SOUTH : Italy (South part), Palestine LEBANON NORTH : Lebanon North, Iran, Armenia LEBANON SOUTH : Lebanon South, Jordan POLAND CENTER EAST : Poland Center East POLAND NORTH : Poland North POLAND WEST : Poland West POLAND SOUTH : Poland south PORTUGAL : Portugal SCANDINAVIA : Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Estonia SLOVÉNIA : Slovenia SPAIN NORTH : Spain (North part) SPAIN SOUTH : Spain (South part), Gibraltar SOUTH AMERICA ANDES : Peru, Equator, Columbia, Chile SOUTHERN CROSS : Australia, Nouvelle-Zealand SYRIA : Syria, Kuwait UNITED STATES EAST : Untied States East UNITED STATES WEST : Untied States West During the Assembly, the country representatives discussed the possibility of regrouping countries in provinces according to the new Constitution. The list below represents a possible configuration. Names in bold are provisional. In the coming two years, the General Assembly of each province will have the chance to discuss and validate these new configurations.
30 3 Communities Provinces Community Assembly Coordinator, Chaplain, Treasurer and Vice-coordinators Assembly Provincial Team President, Vice-president, International Coordinator, Treasurer, International Chaplain and 2 qualified members Board of Directors Coordinator and members of the team Coordination Team International Coordinator, International Chaplain, International Vice-coordinators Coordinators’ Council International Coordination Team Provincial Coordinator, Chaplain, Treasurer and a delegation from each community Members of the Board of Directors, International Vice- coordinators and a delegation from each province The members of the community Coordination Team and Provincial Coordinators The New Structure The table below illustrates the elements of the structure at each of the three circles of responsibility. There is no change at the community level. In this new structure, the Provincial Teams become an important source of life to support communities. Vice- coordinators take care and respond to the needs of provinces or communities. The Coordinators’ Council meets approximately every 2.5 years and constitutes a place of mutual support for provincial coordinators. It could not only be seen in the shining faces and in the burning hearts of the participants but it could also be felt in the union and deep solidarity of this large crowd, made up of so many languages, races and cultures. In all, almost 175 delegates from all aver the world. Everything has been planned in detail, with attention to the heart: beautiful decoration everywhere with the emblem of Faith and Light, dossiers full of documents, a map with a pretty wooden cross to bid us welcome was awaiting us in our rooms, a non-stop simultaneous translation (French, English and Spanish) and, scattered throughout the conference room, word of mouth translations in Polish, Korean, Japanese and Arabic. Father Hans Putman s.j. The visual was progressively built during the week. On the right, Loïc and Thaddée It is difficult, almost impossible, to describe the presence of the Holy Spirit though it was so visible and palpable
29 We are at a turning point. We are leaving the old Constitution and its security in order to proceed with a new structure. It is normal for us to be afraid of the unknown, to have regrets about the deep friendships woven into the councils that have disappeared. A great step because, since the adoption of our first Constitution in 1982, it has been subject to modifications at each General Assembly. But here, it could almost be called a re-foundation. Is this a radical upheaval for the movement? I say no. Because the Constitution, the structures as has been said, is an instrument for the service of the spirit. It is a bit like the essential skeleton that supports the flesh and the muscles worked by the spirit. All the Constitution, all our structures, from the bottom to the top, have the disabled person as a purpose and, around them, the community, but it hasn’t always been so. The greatest upheaval in our history happened in Marie-Hélène Mathieu Crossing to the Other Side I remember at the end of the first pilgrimage, the 350 community leaders had unanimously requested that Faith and Light carried on. Jean Vanier told them: "Continue to meet and do what the Holy Spirit inspires you to do.” Up until 1979, each person was left a little to his or her own instigation. I remember great festivals in Belgium that brought together not the communities but 2000 to 3000 people. Here is the result of their discussion: A three step Scenario Several groups expressed their agreement with the three step process. Some emphasised that this approach would create more awareness in several areas around the world. It was mentioned that a provincial or inter provincial pilgrimage would go against an international one because of the accumulation of costs. A few times, it was suggested for various reasons, to avoid an international pilgrimage during Easter time. The ecumenical dimension was also mentioned as well as an equal representation of participating countries. A pilgrimage to Lourdes was mentioned by a majority of groups. Some indicated that a big event offers more possibilities to rally people and is important to generate visibility. They also said that other places could be less costly than Lourdes. Some mentioned Lourdes but indicated that the financial dimension is important in the choosing of the place. The optimal size of the gathering was mentioned a few time, but there was no consensus The objectives To announce and to celebrate our identity and mission. To be visible; this is why it is important that all communities participate in a common approach. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Faith and Light and the international dimension. Celebrate the history and live the tradition. The means Several suggestions were made: Constitute a team; fund raising campaign; establish a partnership with l’Arche; ask support from people from outside; insure solidarity, etc.. Several people simply asked the question: “How can this work?” 4 During the last day of the meeting, the participants, regrouped in 22 sub-groups and brainstormed. They were asked to react to three questions: 1 o A three steps scenario for a pilgrimage, that is starting with an inter community activity, followed by something at the provincial or inter provincial level, and finally an international activity, 2 o The objectives of this activity, 3 o The organisation. In the coming months, the Board of Directors and the International Coordination Team will develop a project taking into account the results of the brainstorming. Lourdes Assizes Our Lady of Guadeloupe Extracts from her conference In Peru, FAITH AND LIGHT was carried on by creating a school for disabled children. However, we had an international meeting each year, we shared all our experiences and we became more and more aware that the main thing was the community. The community needed not only a leader but also a coordination team. In Belgium, in 1979, we created an International Council and thus, 3 continent coordinators were nominated, Europe North (Teresa), Europe South (Marie- Angela) and America North (Betty Renaud). At this time, we decided to lay the foundations of a constitution, grounds that were even agreed here in Lourdes on October 26, Then there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the zones, countries and the international level and, in 1982, we ended up with a Charter and Constitution voted for at the Wetherby International Meeting. When we began to discuss the constitution, many feared that it would sterilise the movement and sap inspiration. There was a lot of reticence and resistance. “Why change when it has always been done like this and Faith and Light is thriving?” We rapidly realized that the Constitution made it possible to keep unity throughout the world, facilitating leader discernment by having a head, shoulders, heart and spirit. We were already all persuaded. If good structures are necessary, the richness is in the men and women who use them. Today, it is necessary for us to have great trust. The Holy Spirit supports us more than ever with a quite specific affection and concern because we have put our hand in the hand of the smallest who are the chosen ones of his heart. Each one of us also knows very well that the first commitment, above that of being leader, is that of being a member of our own community, with a particular closeness to any one of our brothers and sisters. 4
The new International Coordination Team: Tim and Maria-Cecilia Buckley (USA), Marie-Rose Lefrère (France), Elaine Swain (New Zeeland), Lucia Casella (Italy), Mirna Hayek (Syria), Darius Chmielauskas (Lithuania), Yves-Bertin Hirwa (Rwanda), Ghislain Duchêné (France). Not on the picture: Hervé et Anne Cuche (Belgium) and Joanna Kozczot (Poland). 5 Global Strategies 1. Continue and improve the identity and mission process. 2. Unity and diversity: inclusion, ecumenism, cultural, national, linguistic and religious identities. 3. Being open and committed in the world as it is. Say who we are, and what our gifts are. Priorities for the new team On Tuesday morning, participants worked in small groups in order to identify the priorities to be given to the new International Team for the next 5 years. Here is the result of their discussion: Methods 1. Adjusting structures and transitions. 2. Training and accompaniment of coordinators, chaplains. Spiritual resources. 3. Internal communication. 4. External communication. 28 Who does what ? 1. Outline the respective responsibilities of the international level, provinces and communities. 2. Finances, vision and strategies to ensure the movement is visible. 3. Solidarity: financial aid, developing links between provinces in order to support the most fragile ones. July 2006 ■ Mandate given to the Task Force October 2006 ■ First meeting of the Task Force Diagnostic and governance principles. Decision to propose a discernment process on identity and mission. March 2007 ■ Meeting of the Task Force with the International Council Decision to propose to Zone Councils a discernment process on Identity and Mission. Decision that this process will continue after October Decision to call the General Assembly in October October 2007 ■ The International Council studies the first draft of the Constitution January 2008 ■ The second draft is sent to the International Council together with a multi media presentation for continental consultation. February 2008 ■ Feedback The comments from the continents are included in the new version. End of March 2008 ■ Draft #3 is distributed to zones and continents April – May 2008 ■ Feedback The comments from zones and continents are included in a new version. July 2008 ■ Distribution of draft #4 and invitation letter to the General Assembly Our Journey since July 2006
627 The Discernment During the election process, Chantal helped the large group in a spiritual conversation to decipher the will of the Spirit. A spiritual conversation involves communicating from our center, in a way that is unique and true to our inner selves, speaking of our most profound desires, those which give us our energy for life. It is at this level that God speaks to us and gives us life. Sharing Groups During the week, in small sharing group, each one of us was able to listen and to express himself/herself: We tried to have an attitude of respectful listening and being attentive to our own experience. Time of silence were appropriate and necessary. These sharing groups were not a place to debate or to try to convince others and impose our own ideas, solve problems or save others. Each one, in turn, was sharing what he/she was able to, not more, not less. This spiritual conversation is rooted in faith; it is humble, poor, open, wishing to welcome and to share, to receive and to give, to love and be loved. Through sharing and our personal prayer, and by listening attentively to others, we experience more deeply the paths of the Holy Spirit, how the Spirit is manifest and working within our lives, where the Spirit is leading us in order that we become one body. Sharing Cafe
7 Photos 26 From left to right: Louis de Voguë (France), treasurer, Father Guy Vanhommissen s.j. Chaplain (Belgium) (not elected), Yves-Bertin Hirwa (Rwanda), qualified member, Claude Gravel and Denise Audet-Gravel (Canada) qualified members (Denise is not on the picture), Henri Major (Canada) President of the Board of Directors, Ghislain du Chéné (France) International Coordi-nator, Corinne Châtain (France) general secretary (not elected), and Roland Tamraz (Lebanon) Vice-President. The discernment according to the Spirit is what makes the election special in Faith and Light: The objective is not to win. The vote is part of a process in which we try to discover what is necessary for the common good. It is not a competition between groups (who propose their candidate), but rather a real care for the concerns and hopes of all members of the international family. As a consequence, the result is a decision of the large community, and everyone is called to confirm it. We pray to be guided by the Spirit and we are responsible for those we elect. The Elections Ghislain Du Chêné Henri Major Corinne gathering the votes The new Board of Directors The evening after the elections was an explosion of joy because these elections had gone ahead with the grace of the Spirit, without any mundane competition, but in an atmosphere of trust and availability for this extraordinary service. Traditional costumes full of the colours of South America, Eastern Europe, various African countries and the Middle East… Joséphine, the Sudan coordinator, looked like a princess, admired by all. Me, I was dressed in a sort of Sjiluk embroidered toga. After this very special explosion of joy we got together for a group photo. This was when Jean Vanier put in an appearance, arriving quite tired from an international Arche meeting in Calcutta (India). His giant stature bowed, but his face was radiating joy and kindness. At the evening meal, his 80th birthday was celebrated with a large cake. In the words he spoke to the Assembly and which flowed enlightened and clear from their source, Jean said: “Faith and Light was born in Lourdes, a place of great suffering, but also of great compassion. The blessed and weakened humanity has become there the source of a deep joy … a joy which originates in Jesus and his Good News: ‘As severe as your disability may be, you are unique and precious in the eyes of God and for others. Each woman, each man is important and it is a sign of the love of God’.” With this message, the delegates returned to their various countries and set to work to proclaim this good news, helped by the new Constitution and the new leaders. With a deep trust, we entrust our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ to the benevolent and effective care of all who read this testimony. Father Hans Putman
8 Like Bernadette, they find themselves in a situation of weakness, like her, more often than not, they do not know how to read or write. Like Bernadette, to grow they need an expression of trust, tailor-made missions. Like Bernadette, weak people often have a true word that can surprise and sometimes disconcert. Like Bernadette, weak people are attracted by this God who loves them. Their trust in Him is natural. The weak people of our communities, like Bernadette, often have a thirst to receive the Eucharist and show their joy when they prepare for their first communion. First and foremost, as we listen to Marie-Hélène Mathieu, we are struck by how much she is oozing with youth and strength. She continues to amaze us with her energy, her flood of words, her exceptional memory! We would like to thank her for having taken us back through the history of Faith and Light and for having helped us to draw new strength from the story of the life of Bernadette. Bernadette is well placed to guide us at this ‘turning point’ and with her, we are brought back to our roots. Bernadette’s life is reflected in many ways in the lives of disabled People: Marie-Hélène Mathieu Like Bernadette Mission Mission in the church, mission in the world. We have something to tell the world. About love, about people with disabilities, about our values. To help people with disabilities to grow and to reveal their value, their beauty, their mission, their gifts. But above all, to witness the relationship to the different, relationship to the weak, relationship which becomes healing. They heal us about our fears, our prejudices and they bring us to the point of our own vulnerability. Faith and Light is not just to help parents, is not just to help people with disabilities, but it is also to help people in our world to discover the gifts of people with disabilities. How we are transformed by people with disabilities. We have the mission of walking together, Christians from different Churches: the beauty that we can bring to each other. We discovered that we were called to be ecumenical and today, and through what is happening in Jordania and in Syria, we are called to grow with Muslim people. We also have the mission to support each other at the international level. We need each other from different countries. We are a big family, a family in front of globalisation which is governed by development and money. We can discover another type of unity: the compassion, the love, the struggling for the poor, so that those with disabilities are not pushed aside, but somewhere they are seen as indispensable to our churches and societies. Jean Vanier The Community, a place of... Healing That healing began here in Lourdes. As we started to form communities, the parents discovered other parents, people with disabilities discovered friends; there was a healing of hearts. That healing has to continue, because for many parents and for many people with disabilities, they have broken hearts, they have never really been helped to discover what is the meaning to their life. This is not just to be kind to people with disabilities, it is to help them discover a meaning to their life, because in some mysterious way, they can be, and are, an instrument of Jesus. Growth Community is a place where we all are called to grow. In community, there are some persons you really like and others make you climb the walls. Some people assume their responsibilities and others don’t. Some parents are just happy to leave their son or daughter there and run away. It is one thing to build community, another to discover in me, my difficulties in relationship. I need help. I need Jesus. People with disabilities, who have been in Faith and Light for many years, have frequently developed a lot of maturity, growth, understanding. What it means to be human and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Faith and Light communities are places of growth toward greater maturity. Celebration The Eucharist, as the Washing of the Feet, are places where we are called to become one. Celebration is also all the celebrations of having fun together: singing, laughing, dancing, being one together, the mimes, the dramas... To celebrate life because we are loved by God, and we are called to be together and therefore to sing our thanksgiving. To be a people of celebration in the celebration in the world where there is a lot of depression and a lot of pain, a lot of anger and a lot of crisis. Extracts from her conference Extracts from his conference
24 We washed each others feet in sharing groups. We celebrated a Coptic Mass. We rejoiced during an African evening. We took part in an Anglican Eucharist. I marvel at all the different sounds we have been blessed with since arriving at Lourdes: folk songs from all around the world at our welcome; a lion roaring and frogs croaking during Claude’s presentation; intriguing accents in our working groups; people huffing and puffing as they scale the incline once more; Scripture readings in Arabic and in Norwegian; searching questions in our continental meetings; words of encouragement and support as we begin to open in our sharing groups; the buzz of a roomful of animated conversations over dinner and a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’; We gather together as friends and as family in the midst of all these beautiful and diverse sounds. These are sounds that remind me of the richness and the fullness of life that God blesses us all with through the miracle of Faith and Light… Bring on the orchestra! Rév. Tim Dobbin A place of Christian unity At first glance, Lourdes does not seem to be ideal as an ecumenical place. However, it has become a strong place of Christian unity. From the 1st pilgrimage, about sixty Protestant and Anglican pilgrims took part in the move Later, when the communities were developed, Protestant and Anglican communities arose in England, Scotland and South Africa and then, after the fall of the Wall, Orthodox communities were born. From 1981, international pilgrimages to Lourdes have been ecumenical. Marie-Hélène Mathieu Lourdes, the Fertile Ground 9 9 Extracts from her conference What Faith and Light has brought to Lourdes Lourdes is the fertile ground where Faith and Light was born. However, there is a reciprocity of gifts. From the 1971 pilgrimage, “a large wall crumbled that was not one of refusal but of ignorance” stated a chaplain. Since then, intellectually disabled people have been fully welcomed there. At the OCH, we have become aware of the loneliness of disabled people and their families and we have created a reception service that allows for even better integration. Today Today, Lourdes celebrates 150 years of the apparitions and is expecting approximately ten million people this year. Faith and Light quite modestly celebrates its 37 years or its 40 if you count the anniversary of its conception. The first letter found in the archives of the Sanctuaries, dated May 17, 1968, was signed by Jean Vanier and addressed to the Superior of Bétharram to ask him how to contact Mgr Théas, the then Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes to put to him the idea of a pilgrimage project for the intellectually disabled. This 150 year jubilee of Lourdes has somewhat inspired us. If it is a process of thanksgiving, it is especially, said Mgr Perrier, “A great sending on a mission for a new integration” particularly for disabled people.
1- The Fundamentals Do you not find your identity in the call of God and in companionship with those others who share this call? You have an identity – fashioned through the call of God in tandem with providential persons in your lives: persons with disability, families, friends. Call and commitment are a gift and a grace. In that sense, identity comes from outside: think of the many stories of ‘call’ by Jesus that are shown to us in the Gospels. Jesus is God’s involvement in our lives and world – and from his involvement we receive an identity that discloses to us who God is, and who we are. From this disclosure, then, a visible or outside identity begins to take shape; and this others, like me, can see. What do I see? I see how you meet and come to know God. You have a unique way of seeing God and the world. You find God in those whom the world ignores, overlooks, pushes aside, never consults. You find God in the brokenness and pain of others, and in your own pain and brokenness. Here, then, is witness – and prophecy: the counter-cultural insight that being in control, and having power, and stooping to be generous from a position of strength are neither the Godly nor the truly human way. Jim Corkery s.j. Identity and Mission 1023 The new Constitution A structure with three circles of responsibility The community. The new constitution does not foresee changes for communities The province. The entity province regroups an average of thirty communities from the same country or from different countries. The International Three functions At every circle of responsibility Assemblies represent the members A coordination team at every circle of responsibility to accompany and give life A board of directors at the international level to provide direction to the movement Vice-Provincial coordinators Their role is to accompany. More flexibility. Not necessarily associated with a geographic territory. The choice of persons who take over a responsibility A better frame of reference to choose the persons who will take over responsibility. Mechanism to improve the possibility of making the good choice and to correct bad choices. The important place of discernment. The emphasis placed on Coordination Teams Sharing of the task with a team. The role of Coordinators is to facilitate groups. More flexibility to local entities The new Constitution is intentionally vague on several dimensions of Faith and Light. The item #4 of the Constitution provides an interpretation grid. Here are a few elements of the new Constitution adopted by the Assembly: The complete text of the new Constitution is available on Internet at the following address: What is your identity and mission in this world that needs Faith and Light? To answer this question, it is necessary to look back to the fundamentals; to look out at the challenges and the possibilities; and to look forward to some directions you would hope to move in, in the future. It is only when we enter into conversation, dialogue, relationship with those whom we are privileged to help that we become vulnerable too, because we are starting to love. Such love is the way; we need it and the world needs it; and, as Faith and Light shows, it is received freely from those who have nothing to lose but who in fact have what the rest of us could have lost: hearts full of love. This paradox is at the heart of your identity too: that from those to whose pain you reach out you receive far more than you could ever give. All that belongs to the identity you have and manifest: so have confidence in it, even if few seem to notice it. It is a humble, from-inside-out kind of approach, Jesus’ way, not very effective apparently (look at his life!) and not often noticed in a world obsessed with profits, successes, congratulatory evaluations, lucrative results, and so on. The question then is: how can this identity have an impact today and how can the mission foster deeper commitment and attract new members? This is not so easy to answer because the social and cultural circumstances of many parts of our present world place challenges in the pathway of Faith and Light, as well as, of course offering it possibilities of a novel kind also. Thank you Father Jim for your speech. It really moved me. I have taken some of your sentences which struck a chord with me and represent a new light. “You all shine like stars because you have heard the Word of God.” “Like a blind child touches a face, feeling it to recognise it, we do the same at Faith and Light to find God through people with disabilities.” Corinne Extracts from his conference
22 In 2006, the General Assembly in Madrid gave to a Task Force the mandate to review international governance and structures to allow Faith and Light to continue to flourish as an International movement. The Task Force was asked to review the experience of recent years, be attentive to the signs of the times and signs of the Spirit. Regularly consult with and report to members of the International Council (and through them to the countries and zones) on a regular basis. Be open to new ways of functioning, while faithful to traditions. Explore and communicate on advantages and disadvantages of the changes they might propose. Communicate regularly with the international council on the questions raised and to prepare a final proposal for the International Council. The Task Force Members of the Task Force: Maureen O’Reilly, Claude Gravel, Olivier Le Gendre, Jean- Christophe Pascal, Lucia Cassela Here are some objectives that the Task Force tried to achieve: Develop a structure that will allow for proximity between those who carry the responsibility and the members. Introduce more flexibility in the governance of the movement by reducing the rules of functioning. Anchor in the new structure the capacity to develop more competency at all sphere of activities of the movement, particularly in the area of leadership. A culture based on individuals and their rights There are other social and cultural elements, too, that impede and obscure the attractiveness of many Christian options, Faith and Light very much included. We have created in these a culture based on individuals and their rights. We acknowledge the basic rights of all to certain ‘goods’ – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. – but once we have done that, we pay little attention to the social conditions necessary for the acquiring of these rights – and to the fact that the path to them is by no means equal. Furthermore, because an individualistic rights-focus is me-oriented, the culture embodies a ‘logic’ of self-centricity, self- directedness. A culture that does not foster passion and zeal There is another feature of modern life that causes us to have to struggle extra hard too, indeed to have to be openly counter-cultural and resistant, on the one hand, while remaining compassionate, on the other. Here is a challenge second to none: to resist a cultural ‘flow’ that draws people into addiction and compulsive behaviour, seeking experiences, ‘highs’, ‘trips’ of ecstasy out of the boring everyday; and we must find the strength to do this resisting with compassion. The culture seeks to enslave; your Christian way of vulnerability and love seeks to liberate. But it is a liberation that is difficult to make enticing in face of the many choices – apparent liberties – offered to people today in a cultural space that views freedom as unlimited choice, as the absence of all restraint. 11 The modern, ‘Western’ ideal of freedom Whatever the problem is about attracting people to join and commit, for example, to Faith and Light communities, it is not solved by losing sight of the ideal. No; what enables me to go on, to commit deeply, is the early inspiration re- seen. This is all the more difficult in a world that offers the possibility of many identities and that discourages commitment of a lasting and faithful kind. As Pope Benedict says: today we view freedom as living without restrictions; and we see relationships as restrictive, tying us down; so we opt for an empty Bidungslosigkeit (attachment closeness). The modern, ‘Western’ ideal of freedom does not foster the following of any kind of vocations and commitments; we are up against that. 2- Challenges and Possibilities A supermarket of identities There is a supermarket of identities available, and anything like a firm or stable ‘self’ seems unattractive – in face of the endless promises that the multiple identities make to us. People can be one thing today, another tomorrow. There is also an endless stream of opinions on offer – even about life’s more important moral questions – and the impression is increasingly gained that nothing is fixed, or true, or right – or even can be. Living in that kind of world makes the asserting of any kind of stable identity – and the attracting of others to embrace it – well-nigh impossible. The tide of the ‘world’ is simply flowing against us.
Global Context Another current challenge to your mission – but this is one that may also be an opportunity, offering new possibilities – is the global and increasingly interconnected context in which you have to operate. Globalisation, technology and the marvels of new forms of electronic communication have brought to you both new tasks and new responsibilities; at the same time they have made it possible for you to be one – even to know one another across continents – better than ever before. But with all this have come also not only ecumenical, but also interreligious and racially diverse encounters – and these, too, challenge you beyond your traditional boundaries. This is by no means all bad, but it certainly adds to the bewilderment of the moment. In the past, in the so-called period of modernity, there was greater hostility to spiritual things than there is now and less receptivity to religious and prayerful visions of the world. Openness to diversity was weaker; the ‘other’ – the one politically, socially or culturally different from me – was seen as a threat, and there is more openness now – even if a struggle for acceptance, love and inclusion of those who are disabled continues The Challenges That is why we have to learn in Faith and Light that to be a true spirituality demands a certain competence; and the questions today, in 2008, are very different to the questions in Questions on sexuality and sterilisation, questions of marriage, of living alone, of autonomy. In the sixties, people with disabilities were closed up. Now, through a number of initiatives which are positive, there has been an opening up. The creation of workshops, schools, all sorts of support. Beautiful things, but that makes us reflect on how this young man is going to live his autonomy and his sexuality; it is not easy. It is more complex for families and for their children now who are finding a sort of freedom from their families. There is something in Faith and Light which is profoundly spiritual; to discover the meaning, the deep meaning of why Faith and Light was called to be born here in Lourdes – as a gift of God, a gift of Mary, a gift of compassion; a compassion can never just remain spiritual. Jean Vanier A world of Peace Here we have a foundation for a world of peace. The revelation that each person is important, that the person not only will seek security in the group, but must go further and find security in the Holy Spirit which is being given to him. It has taken a long time for humanity to become conscious of the importance of each person. It is really only in 1947 that we had the declaration of the Human Rights where the preamble says this: “The recognition of the inherent dignity of all the members of the human family and their equal rights constitutes the foundation of liberty, justice and peace in the world”. The recognition that each person is important, that each person has a value, that each person is the presence of God. Somebody once asked Martin Luther King, “Will it always be that, in our world, one group thinks they are better than other groups?” That one group thinks that they can despise the others. Will this always be like that?” And Martin Luther King said: “Yes, unless we all discover, recognize and accept what is broken in each one of us”. What is broken in me. My handicaps around fear, fear of relationship, fear of losing one’s place. We, human beings, are all vulnerable, we all have disabilities; and we are called to become weaker and more fragile. This is a revolution, Jesus came to bring a revolution, making a change from the importance of the group – the group remains important – to the importance of the person: the person with disabilities, the person who is fragile, and that person is something very human and very divine. I see that progress has been made in the secular realm too to improve the lives of children like this. The secular world is not always against us; I’m not at all saying all is perfect here, but I think the tilt of society is more enlightened than used to be the case. And that offers encouragement, possibilities….. You are a movement in the Church, inspired by its faith and inserted into the life of its parishes. Your visible presence is a witness to your fellow-believers through how you cherish your family members and friends with disabilities. The Church is now a humbler, more vulnerable, less arrogant, with the opportunity to grow more in this direction and so to become more like the vulnerable and broken Jesus, visible so much in our brothers and sisters with disabilities. So, opportunity is gently knocking here too; and perhaps we can attune ourselves better to friendlier voices and more open minds. Extracts from his conference
The image of the Trinity suggests itself to me, then, as I read about you, and get to know you. It lies at the very heart of who you are. It’s not so far-fetched; look: - Families/Parents – image of the Father, creating, caring, providing, minding, leading. - Persons with Disabilities – image of the Son, broken, vulnerable, pushed aside, loving to the depths and to the end - Friends, especially young friends – image of the Spirit, who brings life, youth, energy, renewing and re-creating. None of these acts alone. They are turned towards each other in love. Their dance is perfectly mutual and exhibits in each an others-towardsness, a loving ‘enjoyment’ of their reciprocal ‘in-flow’ and ‘out-flow’ eternally. A mystery beyond comprehension, yet imaged in no small way by Faith and Light communities of persons with disabilities, their families and their friends – especially young friends Jesus came to tell us something about pain and about the place of people with disabilities. When you read the Gospel message, it is obvious that Jesus is in some way attentive, attracted to people with disabilities. We know the beautiful text of the wedding feast. Jesus says “When you give a really good banquet, invite the poor, the lame, the disabled, the blind and you shall be blessed”. Very beautiful words: “You shall be blessed!” You will be changed; you will be entering the kingdom of love. Blessed are you Father for having hidden these things from the intelligent, the clever, and revealed them to the little ones. When I asked Jean if he had the time and energy to visit us in Sudan next December, he closed his eyes, saying: “The travelling is over! I am now going to retire, praying and living in my Trosly community”. And then he added, looking at me: “But you all have charisma; Faith and Light is going to continue”. Père Hans Putman sj. I have a daughter who is severely handicapped. Every Sunday I used to take her to Mass with my family. One day, a Jesuit priest on replacement told the parishioners after mass “When such a child comes to a parish, this is a blessing. Such a child brings God wherever she goes!” Since then, I have come along with my daughter to various meetings, services because I finally understood which mission God has given her. Yasuhiro Hattori, Japan What Jesus reveals is becoming more conscious today. Jesus has an incredible vision for the world, something which is at the heart of the Gospel: it is not a question of doing good to the poor, but being healed by the poor. That is something new. He came to liberate me from my fears, from my compulsions, and from the need to be affirmed, and Jesus said that we refuse the light because we don’t want to recognize the darkness in us. This is an incredible vision, and this is new. So what appears so painful and terrible, so shameful for so many mothers, when we build community, that which was shameful becomes something which changes me. * Extracts from Jean Vanier’s talk Jesus tells us something new* I am gently challenging you, us, not to lose hope, not to lose confidence in your mission that witnesses to the incarnation of our compassionate God at the heart of the brokenness of our world – our own brokenness and the brokenness of all who make up our communities. God is there. And we are called to be detectives of his presence, tracers of his grace, seekers of his face like my sight-disabled godchild. You are moving forward already with your proposed renewal of both international governance and structures. You are willing to construct a future that is more simplified and more adapted to the circumstances of contemporary life. An image comes to mind that you might wish to do something with. It is of the Trinity – and of the Reciprocity in equal Relationships that characterises them. The phrase is one of the five coming from the zones to spell out the gift of Faith and Light. Reciprocity in equal Relationships. You aim at that in your communities – for a Jesuit it is amazing that you are all ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ and in no sense ‘leaders and led.’ No boss: communities of mutual and equal relationships. 3- Moving Forward into the Future
14 Claude Gravel Identity and Mission: The Unique gift of Faith and Light Reciprocity in equal relationships The central role of the person with an intellectual disability. Humility, fragility, simplicity, dignity. Fruitful fragility which transforms. Equal relationships; learning from each other, breaking down barriers. The weak confounding the wise. Vulnerability which helps us to discover our own vulnerabilities. Belonging and commitment to a community Welcome, warmth, being accepted, having a place. Being welcomed with their gifts into the community. Beauty of everyone’s gift. Being accepted despite difference, as we are, without conditions. Suffering which can be expressed, shared. Solidarity, lasting friendship, fidelity. Support that allows the overcoming of rejection, blame and culpability. Authenticity, transparency Truth in relationships which brings joy. Spontaneity, Truth, Sincerity, Celebration, Life. Agent of peace and unity. Caring Presence, being with, friendly relationships, tenderness, compassion. Consoling and being consoled. Attitude of helping. Paradox of suffering and joy.. Call of God, who accompanies us Vocation received from God, we are called by God. Discovering the presence of God. Trust in God. In our patience Jesus accompanies us. God guides us and gives us strength. He gives a meaning to life. Question #1 asked to Zone Councils « What is the unique gift of Faith and Light today? » This question was intended to bring out the essence of Faith and Light. What is at its root and what is essential and fosters life? Following their discernment, the Zone Councils shared with us the following: Questions for discussion Is being a member of Faith and Light a vocation? What type of commitment are we looking for? What does being involved in Faith and Light mean? 19 To welcome a child is to welcome Jesus. Jesus in the Eucharist, and Jesus in the wounded person. In all our churches we must bring this mystery together, the real presence of Jesus in the poor, the broken, the disabled, rejected, in prison, naked, stranger, sick. Whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done to me. The real presence of Jesus in the broken, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We have to learn to bring things together. And then, what was horrible, what was fearful, what was a source of pain, things begin to change. It is all about suffering. How to stand in front of suffering? Not to treat it glibly, not to spiritualize it; suffering is a very physical human reality and it demands competence to know how to be in front of it, and demands a spirituality, to remain present, to be present to pain. Why do people not want to recognize that people with disabilities are important to the Church and they have a vital place in the Church? How is it that many people in Church do not understand what Paul says: parts of the body which are the least presentable and the weakest are indispensable to the body. People who are the weakest are indispensable to the Church and should be honoured. Should be honoured! Gradually over the years we discovered that Faith and Light is not just a place of celebration, but a place of community. We are very different from communities that are there to evangelize. We are communities to welcome people in pain. Parents don’t want to have a child with disabilities. Once they have the child with disabilities, they frequently don’t know what to do. None of us wants pain. There is a fundamental thing in our heart: we want to reject pain, we want to be well. The reality of pain is something we don’t want. Welcoming people in pain Extracts from his conference
18 Jean Vanier Guided by the Spirit Good morning. It is good to be here; good to be with each one of you, some I know better, but others I know less well, but I am just happy to be with you, I am also very happy to be eighty years old. In my foyer, in my home, when I was seventy, they said “You don’t have to do the washing up any more”; when I got to eighty, they said “Go to bed”, so it is a good life. We have to learn, I have to learn to go into weakness. This is what it is all about: fragility, vulnerability, and weakness. That is always the passage from a founder, founders, to those who are called to continue. This is about to know how to begin, but also to know how to leave, to give life and to trust. So it is a joy to be here, and I am happy to be here for my last meeting with Faith and Light. It is not a departure. It’s how to become more prayerful, to be together in prayer and discover the mystery that we are called to live. The immensity of the pain The first thing that strikes me about Faith and Light is the number of mothers, fathers, people with disabilities who are in terrible pain. Just recently, in Kenya, they discovered in a small area, two thousand people with disabilities hidden away, and the parents ashamed. Mothers holding their children with severe handicaps, witnessing what they have lived, the husband who had left, their anger, their depression, their solitude. The pain of these women, the pain of people with disabilities. There is something cultural, deeply cultural which is in the history of humanity: to have a child with a disability is like a bad fruit which means a bad tree. And we cannot underestimate the immensity of the pain of parents and their sons and daughters. 15 F&L is a gift which God has sown in our hearts. This little seed holds all the beauty of people with intellectual disability, all their value; we have been asked to help this seed to grow and to show it to the world. The people with intellectual disability have asked us to join with them, which allows us to discover our own fragility. This message of unity is universal; in this sense, the person with a disability is prophetic. This alliance entails reciprocity in relationships and equality among people; a movement working both ways. And it implies patience, humility, love, truth, transparency, generosity, simplicity, accompaniment; these attitudes are the expression of our spirituality. F&L transforms the lives of people and calls for change in our hearts. Identity and Mission Steering Group The Task Force (page 22) determined very early in its work, that a reflection on the structure could not be done without a thorough reflection on identity and mission. This is why a team was asked to guide a discernment process on identity and mission. This team was composed of Hervé Cuche, Claude Gravel, Chantal de Jonque et Franck Janin. This team proposed a discernment process to all Zones: not to change the identity but rather to ensure that in our reflection on the structures we do not lose sight of essential of the mission. Chantal de Jonque and Franck Janin s.j., members of the Steering Group When I hear of a father or a mother killing their son, what I am hearing is that they have not had enough support. Some parents live the unbearable. But the pain is part of our world, and I am not talking just of the pain of people with intellectual disabilities; the pain of mental sickness, the pain of all the physical types of sickness. The pain of slavery; a hundred thousand women become slaves in prostitution in Europe every year. Hundred thousand! The growing gap between the rich and the poor, and with the financial difficulties, today, this gap will grow. Everywhere there is this pain. Secretariat Team: Céline, Adélaïde et Corinne. Thank you for your excellent work The interpreters’ team Extracts from his conference
16 Claude Gravel Identity and Mission: The ingredients of our ecosystem Our communities are like a small pond in the jungle of our world. They constitute fragile ecosystems that need to be protected because they are essential to the life of our societies. Communities of meeting around people with an intellectual disability, their families and friends. Christian communities, where God is revealed and is incarnated. They offer a safe place where people can be themselves and exercise their gifts and where everyone is responsible for using their gifts for the growth of the community Family support. A presence to reduce isolation, suffering, culpability and blame. Fourth time, gatherings and summer camps to develop friendship. Ecumenism. Ecumenism is the sharing of our gifts for our mutual enrichment instead of emphasising the differences that separate us. A big international family with the same spirit all around the world. Common tools like the guidelines and the pilgrimages. In the feedback that we received, the Zone Councils confirmed the following characteristics of Faith and Light: Question #2 asked to Zone Councils What are the essential characteristics that make Faith and Light unique? Questions for discussion Is Faith and Light a Faith movement? Is Faith and Light a Faith movement? What is the place of the big spiritual events? What is the place of the big spiritual events? 17 Calls that move us forward and that really respond to our contribution in our Churches and our societies Imparting to people with a disability the fact that they are precious, that they are loved by God and that they can open hearts. Meeting families with young people with disabilities. Being attentive to the call of these families, the hopeful parents. Welcoming new members. Being integrated in parishes. Announcing that people with a disability are loved by God and that they open our hearts. Work for peace both within ourselves and around us, announcing that the person with a disability is a source of peace and unity. Deepening, broadening ecumenism. Opening up to other religions. Being present in places where there is a question of dignity and life, witnessing respect for life. Imparting to the world the fact that we can live in a different way. Calls concerning the ways and means to accomplish our mission Reaffirming our identity, returning to our roots, deepening our spirituality. Developing leadership. Finding chaplains. Running fund raising campaigns. Using the media to announce Faith and Light and to invite young people. Preparing the replacements, not lowering our arms, no longer being afraid. Using the Guidelines and living the spirit of Faith and Light in our daily lives. Question #3 asked to Zone Councils To realize our identity and, so as to bear fruit in abundance, ? what are the calls that I perceive being made upon Faith and Light today? For Faith and Light, this question refers to its contribution in our local communities, in our churches, in our society. In other words, what is Faith and Light’s relevance in the world today? To what need does Faith and Light respond? To what extent is Faith and Light entrenched in the reality of our societies? The answer to this question brings us out of ourselves and gives us a forward-moving direction. The long term survival of Faith and Light is linked to our constantly renewed ability to be in harmony with the relevant needs of our societies. Claude Gravel Identity and mission: Our relevancy Answers that Zones Councils sent us: Questions for discussion The fact that the answers either highlight, albeit indiscriminately, what is moving us forward or what is bringing us back to ourselves, indicates a lack of focus in the interpretation of Faith and Light’s fundamental contribution to our societies. What do we mean when we talk about family support? What does it entail when we say that our call is "Witnessing“? Extracts from his conference