Una vita in Africa – A life in Africa Rotating Header Image

March 17th, 2012:

A Witness – Un Testimone

Yesterday evening Jean Vanier was in Bethlehem, where two years ago the worldwide movement he founded – L’Arche – has started a community for people with disabilites. He was speaking in a place not even 50 meters from the Salesian college where I stay and I could not miss him. Since the beginning of Koinonia, in Zambia over 30 years ago, we have used his powerful book “Community and Growth” to understand what concretely means to live in a community, non-violence, acceptance of the others.

Vanier is now 83 years old, and the powerful frame of this former Canadian Navy officer is bent, and he speak sitting of on chair. But his message is delivered in a powerful way, touching the heart of everyone in the audience. When he retired from the Navy, after World War II, he got a doctorate in Philosophy and actually taught Philosophy for some years in a Canadian university. When he accepted the challenge to live in community with some disabled people his life was transformed, and started his personal journey of “Becoming Human”, as he wrote in a book with this title.

Yesterday he spoke on the theme “To be human is to be fragile”. I put down a few notes of what he said: “Power and strength can separate people, whereas weakness and the cry for help bring people together. When you are weak, you need people. When you are strong, you do not need people. You can do everything on your own. The weak person calls people together, and when the weak call forth the strong, they awaken what is most beautiful in the human person – compassion, goodness, openness to another… Our weakness brings people together”.

Simple enough thoughts, that could be banal in an homily delivered by a poor overworked priest, but not when you hear them from this layman who speak from experience, and who has lived a rich and fulfilling life in the service of the weak and poor. He is a powerful witness of the Gospel, and listening to him you can understand why they many trusted him and joined his communities. Now the L’Arche has over 130 communities all around the world, strangely only two in Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda. Why not in Kenya? When I left the audience I was determined to facilitate their coming to Nairobi.

This morning I was powerfully reminded what it means to be weak. I woke up long before dawn with a backache that become increasingly strong, and every movement became very painful. I needed the help of two Good Samaritans, of the Salesian kind, to get ready, reach their car, be driven to a small clinic managed by a Palestinian doctor, who helped me with medication and physiotherapy and put me back in shape. Vanier’s words have been followed by a practical lesson!

Here are some Jean Vanier quotes from “Community and Growth”

“The poor are always prophetic. As true prophets always point out, they reveal God’s design. That is why we should take time to listen to them. And that means staying near them, because they speak quietly and infrequently; they are afraid to speak out, they lack confidence in themselves because they have been broken and oppressed. But if we listen to them, they will bring us back to the essential.”

“To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefor unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.”

“When children are loved, they live off trust; their lives and hearts open up to those who respect and love them, who understand and listen to them.”

“A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets. Community is only being created when they have recognized that the greatness of man is to accept his insignificance, his human condition and his earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness.”

“We have to remind ourselves constantly that we are not saviours. We are simply a tiny sign, among thousands of others, that love is possible, that the world is not condemned to a struggle between oppressors and oppressed, that class and racial warfare is not inevitable.”

I imagine Jean Vanier delivering this last quote with the same tone of his yesterday speech, such that even if you identify more with the dog than with the owner, you cannot feel offended…

“…Individualistic material progress and the desire to gain prestige by coming out on top have taken over from the sense of fellowship, compassion and community. Now people live more or less on their own in a small house, jealously guarding their goods and planning to acquire more, with a notice on the gate that says, ‘Beware of the Dog.”

Italiano English
This blog is multi language by p.osting.it's Babel