Remember when someone stepped-up to give you a hand — a family member, neighbor, co-worker or perhaps a stranger who walked beside you at a critical time?
TREKKING TOGETHER is for Catholic Charities’ staff and volunteers to reflect on The Art of Accompaniment — how we walk with the people we help, support, serve and champion. Trekking Together, you are invited to share your story and comments with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WELCOME TO “TREKKING TOGETHER”
"New life and the gift of accompaniment"
When a woman who is unexpectedly pregnant knocks at the door of the Sisters of Life, they’re aren’t shunned or shamed, nor is there any incessant begging for them to keep the baby. Instead, they’re invited to tea.
“After we meet a woman or if she calls us on the phone, we love to have her come in person to our convent and we just sit down with a cup of tea and a plate of cookies and just get to know her,” Sister Maria Anne Michela told the Denver Catholic . “Who are you? What’s your situation? What’s your life like? Just tell me about how you got where you are in life and what you like and what your dreams are.”
From that point on, the Sisters are in it for the long haul with her. Beyond just helping them find material resources, which certainly are an important and necessary piece in their choosing life, the Sisters simply seek to walk alongside these women as they prepare for motherhood and remind them that, despite what the world and other external (and even internal) voices may tell them, they are strong enough to bring that beautiful gift of new life into the world.
“Our main goal in walking with women who are pregnant is to reflect back to them their own goodness, their own strength, and to help them to make an act of faith in themselves,” Sister Michela said.
While the reasons that women seek an abortion are varied, Sister Michela said that it is ultimately fear that lies at the root of that decision, and that it’s oftentimes not in actuality a free choice that the woman makes.
“Our founder, John Cardinal O’Connor, would always say that fear underlies all killing,” she said. “Fear is the root of it. So many fears come in, and that just takes over.
“There are just so many factors that drive a woman to abortion that I would say most of the time, she’s not making a free choice,” she added. “She’s being pressured either directly by the father of the baby or the family or whoever, or indirectly by being told, ‘you can’t do it.’”
Sister Michela recalled one woman during her time at the convent in New York who approached the Sisters. This woman had discovered that she was pregnant with her fourth child and had just lost her job that day. She sat down for tea with the Sisters and laid it all out. She said she didn’t want to have an abortion, but she didn’t see how it could possibly work. The Sisters just listened and lovingly told her about the many resources that exist to help her along the way.
As Sister Michela walked her back to the train station, she looked up at the nun and said, “You know what? Now that I know that I’m not alone, I’m going to do this. I can have this baby. I’m going to do it.” And she did.
“We hadn’t actually given her anything, but it was just being told you’re not alone and there’s somebody who’s going to walk this journey with you,” Sister Michela said. “It might have twists and turns, but we’re going to stick with you.”
It’s that accompaniment and presence that ultimately means the most to women in these situations.
“The biggest thing is so much more than the material support, which they also need when the time comes,” Sister Michela concluded. “But far beyond that is just the emotional support of knowing that they had somebody who’s for them and who believes in them.”
The Sisters of Life just released a 12-part video series on accompanying a woman into life. Watch it at intolifeseries.com.
A place to rest
When one walks into Marisol Health in Lafayette, there are no cold, fluorescent lights or sterile white walls typical of most clinical settings to be found. Instead, shades of light blue adorn the walls and warm lighting illuminates the cozy waiting area. Most important of all is the friendly smile from clinic coordinator Mary Beth, whose first job is to make any woman who steps through those doors and welcome and loved.
For the women who come, all of this creates a caring and compassionate atmosphere to help ease the feelings of fear and anxiety they’re likely feeling in that moment.
This is not done in an attempt to “dupe” or “hoodwink” anybody; it is done first and foremost out of love for that woman. And no matter what walk of life or situation that woman is coming from, one thing is for certain: they will be welcome, and they will be loved.
“That’s the beauty of Marisol, we will serve everyone, and everyone’s circumstance is a little bit different,” said Sara, Program Director at Marisol. “We try to really serve the individual where they are. It’s important for us to really build that relationship with that individual, from the first moment we talked on the phone or the first moment they walk in, to make them feel welcome, to let them know that we are here, to really answer the questions that they have and to support them.”
Every day, the staff at Marisol begins the day with prayer. There is a chapel on-site with the Blessed Sacrament, which is indicative of the reality that in a very real way, Jesus is present with not only the staff but also the abortion-vulnerable women who come seeking care and support. Priests from the nearby parishes will also come to celebrate Mass for the staff. Spirituality is at the root of the important and vital work they do.
“The hidden virtue of our clinic is hospitality,” said Senite, Director of Clinical Services for Marisol. “We always say that we don’t know what someone is walking in with. But the hope is that when they come through our doors, that they can rest here.”
Marisol Health is just one part of a greater continuum of care that can be found among the various services and resources Catholic Charities offers. When a woman experiencing an unexpected pregnancy comes to them, in addition to offering comprehensive medical care through a partnership with Bella Health and Wellness, Marisol has the means to help them find affordable housing and other resources that will empower an expectant mother to be a mother. They receive many donations of crucial baby supplies that they gift to the mothers they walk with. But it’s that first point of contact that is so important.
“We love on her so she feels loved and supported,” Outreach Coordinator Michelle said. “We really take care of mom because if she feels like she’s special and that she’s worth it and she has dignity, then with the life inside of her, she sees that dignity. That’s where we start with her.”
“Love and being loved really does testify,” Senite added. “That’s really our hope. There’s no reason to feel shame.”
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the tensions between pro-life and pro-abortion rhetoric are reaching boiling points that likely haven’t been seen since 1973. There are many stigmas that exist on both sides, making it extremely important to speak about the realities of crisis and unexpected pregnancies in honest and charitable ways.
“I haven’t met one person who, and this might sound intense so bear with me, wants to kill their baby,” Senite said. “There are so many life decisions that are surrounding it that they’re fearful and they’re debilitated in that fear, and they feel like they have no other choice or option but to consider this. A big part of the supportive side of it is to work with our medical team and trust what’s talked about in the exam rooms and in the counseling room so that everyone is on the same page. We want to support you so that you feel like you can say ‘yes’ well, not coerce you into saying ‘yes.’ We want you to be well, we want you to have a house. It’s not just an isolated moment of, ‘we care about you for this much time.’ We are seeing people for their second babies now, which is so exciting.”
Another major stigma that exists is the role of the father in the pregnancy. The ladies at Marisol admit that dads aren’t always in the picture when they’re walking with the women they serve, but they are so happy when the father is involved. Their support is absolutely vital, Sara stressed.
“Dads matter,” she said. “People often ask, ‘what do you have for the dad?’ And we invite dad into the conversation as early as we can. You’re in this with us, this is your appointment too. The family is so important and we try to emphasize that, even when it’s just asking humanly, ‘how are you doing with this?’ and not just focusing on her. While she is absolutely, extremely important, he’s important too.”
"Accompaniment Requires Trust"
One of the key phrases in our current conversations about evangelization and discipleship is what Pope Francis has described as the art of accompaniment. To accompany someone is to walk along with that person on his or her journey. It is important to recognize, however, that a prerequisite to accompaniment is trust! If someone is going to allow us to walk with him or her on the journey, that person needs to know, first and foremost, if we are trustworthy, credible, and reliable. Many experts in leadership emphasize that one of the first priorities of an effective leader is to establish a climate of trust. In other words, people need to know that they are safe in the environment that they are being invited into. This is especially crucial in a faith formation/spiritual environment where people are being invited to entrust their entire being to the Person of Jesus Christ and his Church. In order for us to effectively evangelize and catechize those entrusted to us, we need to establish trust.
In a much-viewed TED talk, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” management theorist Simon Sinek emphasizes that effective leaders draw their people into a circle of trust—a place where they feel safe from the dangers surrounding them, but also empowered to battle those forces of danger. In that talk, Sinek says, “You know, in the military, they give medals for people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who sacrifice others so that we may gain. We have it backwards.” How true. Sinek goes on to say that, when people feel safe and secure and within a circle of trust, remarkable things can happen: “When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.”
What this means is that it is crucial that we, today’s catechists and evangelizers, can and must establish trust by doing the following:
- We must speak credibly. What we have to say must be sound and must resonate with all that is good, true, and beautiful.
- We must act reliably. Our actions must flow from and match our words; they must be an authentic embodiment of what we say.
- We must be approachable. Those we serve must feel comfortable and safe confiding in us.
- We must focus on others. Our attention must be on those we serve, not on ourselves.
How do we do this in practical terms? Here are some suggestions I’d like to offer.
- Clarify expected behaviors for all (including yourself). Trust is built when participants know what behaviors are encouraged and what behaviors are unacceptable. They should even be invited to construct this list or at least add to it. Participants can also benefit from hearing you, as the leader/facilitator of the group, identify which behaviors are required of you in order to ensure a safe environment. Consistently confront violations of such behaviors and affirm adherence. Trust is built when participants see that the aforementioned codes of conduct are enforced and that there are consequences or repercussions for violations of such codes of conduct. Encourage and protect expression. Trust is built when participants feel free to express themselves and know that, if and when they do, they will be respected and their contributions will be appreciated.
- Encourage and embrace candor. Trust is built when participants are allowed the freedom to grapple with concepts being presented and to respectfully express their disagreement with impunity.
- Encourage risk-taking and do not fear failure. Trust is built when participants know that they can use their unique gifts and talents to try new things and not fear repercussions simply for trying.
- Incorporate cooperative-learning opportunities. Trust is built when participants interact with one another in order to build trust in the group, not just between them and you, but between one another.
- Share responsibility. Trust is built when participants (especially older children, youth, and adults) enjoy a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for the direction of the group.
- Show compassion and empathy. Trust is built when participants know that you truly care about them and understand them.
- Celebrate diversity. Trust is built when participants know that their unique talents, gifts, characteristics, and identities are welcome and that they are not simply expected to conform or to perform tasks.
- Generously affirm. Trust is built when participants know that they and their contributions are held in esteem and are appreciated.
- Admit your own mistakes, shortcomings, and limitations. Trust is built when participants recognize your transparency and honesty, which, in turn, encourages them to be transparent.
- Be available. Trust is built when participants know that you are approachable and that they can confide in you.
- Respect and observe boundaries. While boundaries sound like something negative—a way of shutting others out—they are actually quite positive: a means of protecting that which is sacred. In the Old Testament, we learn that the Temple in Jerusalem—the focal point of God’s sacred presence among his people—had various boundaries that separated Gentiles, Jewish women, Jewish men, and the priests from the Ark of the Covenant, which “contained” God’s sacred presence. In the New Testament, Jesus replaced that Temple with the temple of his own body, and St. Paul taught that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. As a result, we are called to respect the sacredness of ourselves and one another. One of the ways we do this is by observing physical, emotional, and behavioral boundaries.
Doing the work of establishing trust is not an interruption in our evangelizing/catechizing efforts; it is a prerequisite to meaningful accompaniment. What are some of the ways that you establish trust in your faith formation environment?
About the Author
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.
"Accompaniment: A Personal Reflection"
Baha'i Life, Opinion April 2, 2012 Nava
I remember stepping off the airplane into my new home, my pioneering post, thousands of miles away from all that was easy and familiar to me and from all that was loved and precious in my life. It was exciting. It was also scary.
The sun stayed hidden for days, the heat was heavy, and the air was thick with smog and exhaust. I had never seen the apartment where I would be living for the next year (part of my package with the university that had hired me) and when I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the stench of cigarettes. The second was the half bathroom. The third was that there was no kitchen.
It should have been a long, scary night full of questions and doubt. Actually, it was a long, scary night full of questions and doubt. But it was surmountable because I was being accompanied.
A few weeks before I had arrived at my pioneering post, two of my friends, who were now married to each other, had also moved to the same city and, as it turned out, were only a 20-minute bicycle ride away from my new home. They asked if they could come see me that very first night. Feeling tired and overwhelmed, I said no. They insisted.
They rode over on their bicycles and upon seeing my apartment, they also insisted I spend the night with them. (They did this, however, with such tact and grace, assuring me that my apartment was run of the mill and I could probably get rid of the cigarette smell with the right chemicals. It wasn’t until months later that the wife confessed that the second she walked in the bathroom, she knew I should not be alone that night and that she would not be taking no for an answer.)
There was also the matter of getting to their place. I didn’t have a bicycle yet and for some reason we decided it would be a good idea for me to ride on the back of the husband’s, rather than just have me catch a cab to their apartment. So memories of my first night include riding on the back of a bicycle, giggling about how slowly we were moving, how absurd this whole scene was, and yet considering deep in my heart how sweet and beautiful it was too.
In the weeks that followed, they showed me where to buy my groceries, helped me buy a bicycle, taught me how to ride my new bicycle (which was another absurd and sweet scene) and they constantly checked in on me to offer their help and support.
In the months that have transpired since, we have reflected together, planned together, cried together, learned together, prayed together, and supported each other’s efforts. On days when I wanted so badly to give up, they urged me forward.
I had known the wife for ten years, and the husband for three. I had loved and admired them both from the very beginning of our friendships, but the friendship we had before cannot compare in even one measure to the one we have now—one that has been strengthened by service, support, hardship and accompaniment.
In its Ridvan 2010 message, the Universal House of Justice discusses the concept of accompaniment and its role within the Baha’i community. The Universal House of Justice describes accompaniment in these words:
It signals the significant strengthening of a culture in which learning is the mode of operation, a mode that fosters the informed participation of more and more people in a united effort to apply Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to the construction of a divine civilization.
The process of accompanying an individual in his or her efforts to serve the Faith is of paramount importance for both the individual in their path of service, as well as to the Baha’i community as a whole.
For the friends to accompany one another does not simply mean for us to have kind words at the ready whenever we see each other. It means that we support one another’s efforts—we pray for each other, we reflect together, we stand shoulder to shoulder when that human support is crucial; we assist each other to start that devotional meeting, contact that parent, engage in that conversation directly and fearlessly. When we do these things together, when we know that someone else is right there with us – maybe someone with more experience, fewer inhibitions, or even equally as shy and novice-like as we are – an experience that can be daunting and intimidating becomes a shared one, an opportunity for learning and growth, and certainly, for deepened friendship.
About the Author
Nava is the CEO of Ninth Mode Media, a production company dedicated to developing original content for film and television that grapples with themes of social significance through a hopeful lens. She’s based in Los Angeles.
"Accompaniment from El Salvador on..."
by Jim Barnett, O.P.
The following was an intended oral presentation edited by Justice Martinez, Arrupe Jesuit High School Intern
For me, it began in 1984 when I arrived in El Salvador. I was to spend a two-month period with the Dominican friars there, simply learning about the reality, observing what the friars were doing, seeing where I might fit into the pastoral plan.
On the first day, they took me to the outskirts of San Salvador, to a place called the "22nd of April". The name came from the date when the people had taken over the land. It was a community of some 10,000 people, jammed into about a three-block square area. It wasn't exactly a choice piece of real estate--it had been a garbage dump--and it smelled like it, and there was plastic sticking out of the ground in places. The complete property was on a steep hill, stretched out from the road below to the railroad tracks above.
There was no water, no electricity, no sewage system. Some of the homes were made of concrete blocks with a tin roof; others were completely tin or cheap aluminum sheets; some were of scrap lumber; others were plastic; and still other houses--those of the new arrivals--were made of cardboard. Nearly all of these were one-room shacks but anywhere from three to ten people lived in the shacks.
The people were called "desplazados", displaced persons. They were "internal refugees" and had been driven from the countryside by the civil war raging in El Salvador. "22nd of April" was not a United Nations re-settlement, it was not a church program, it certainly was not a government project. It was simply a place where people ended up when they could find nothing else. About fifty new folks arrived each day--typically a single mother with 3 or 4 kids and maybe an elderly grandparent or aunt.
I witnessed my first example of "accompaniment" on the part of the people when I saw a family of 5 welcome a newly arrived widow, age 23 with her 3 kids, into their one-room home to live. They didn't even know them--they weren't relatives--they just took them in. It was a community of women and children--there were few teenagers around, and almost no young men. These had not left the countryside: they were in the war.
Now I had lived in big cities before, and had seen their slums--Chicago, Houston, Denver, Minneapolis--but I'd never in my life even imagined what I experienced that first day in "22nd of April". My senses were bombarded, dilated with gruesome sights, garbage-pit smells, and I heard so many horror stories that my ears ached. I saw open sewage pits with ragged kids in bare feet running through them, gaunt women with hollow yet enchanting eyes, lugging a baby on their hip, or at the breast, or their heads carrying a huge bucket of water or a pan of corn to go to the grinder to make tortillas.
We spent most of the day just walking around, meeting folks, hearing the stories, being hit on for money, or food, or aluminum sheets for the houses. In late afternoon, we went to the church, rang the bells, and within a half-hour hundreds of women and children and dogs had crammed into this biggest building in the community. There my tour guide, a seasoned Dominican missionary from Spain, Padre Alejandro, presided at Eucharist. At the end of the Eucharist, he introduced me to the people--as their new pastor!
My head jerked when he said the words. He had told me beforehand simply that "we'd like you to work with us in their new community that has grown up" but PASTOR! Of 10,000 displaced people of the poorest of the poor! There was no discernment process, there was no consultation with the bishop and the diocesan pastoral planning board, there was simply this Spanish priest saying, "Here's your new pastor!" I was overwhelmed. How could he do this? How could I do this? He must have mistaken my misty eyes as tears of compassion rather than smarting from the strong stench of garbage; he must have thought my playing with the kids was a sign of fatherly affection rather than an escape from talking to the adults because I could think of nothing to say to them in this setting.
On the way back to the Priory in the city, Padre Alejandro said simply, "This is where we work--if you're going to be with us, you'll work here." And then he told me about something that had occurred some years before, when Archbishop Romero was still alive:
A group of new missionaries from the States had had an orientation to the country and finally met with the archbishop for his blessing...He told them: "We're very grateful for your coming here--you've had many opportunities for education and the people will appreciate you. In the U.S. you have great churches and schools and pastoral programs and wonderful parish plants. But what the people really need is that you simply WALK WITH THEM in their lives, that you ACCOMPANY them on their own faith journey, that you are THERE WITH THEM as they struggle to work out their own historical destiny. If you do that--if you simply accompany the people, I tell you, you will discover a wonderful faith, and YOUR faith and YOUR lives will be transformed. That's what Jesus did--He didn't cling to his divinity but emptied himself and became as we are; He made a choice to be with the people in their sickness, in their poverty, in their struggles with the civil and religious authorities. We say here that Jesus made a preferential, fundamental option for the poor and the marginalized and the little ones---He walked with them, and they came to believe that THEIR walk was important. That's what the Salvadoran people need: ACCOMPANY them, and I promise you, your own journey will be transformed.
New Word--A New Concept of Ministry.
These words of Archbishop Oscar Romero were the first time I'd heard about the "theology of accompaniment", but this was to be a source and a force in my life for the next 14 years-up to this very day. It also began a whole new approach to preaching and to all my ministry...accompaniment...
For me, it started right there in the "22nd of April" colony--partly (I admit it to you) out of frustration, out of MY NEED, my felt need: I was a foreigner, my Spanish was terrible, I didn't know the culture of the people at all, they were as poor and as destitute as any I'd ever seen, I was afraid, the country was in a fierce civil war-- the folks there had family members on both sides--I met two families who later confided to me that they had one son in the military and another with the guerillas.
So that was the situation--I didn't know what to do--I felt helpless--the "ministry of accompaniment" began. My first discovery was that it was a ministry of mutuality (I had so much to learn--I could learn it only from them) They ministered to me. I simply couldn't look at them as "objects" of my ministry: They were the actors/subjects/initiators/animators.
So, my "accompaniment" of the people was a learning/deepening experience for ME --an experience of mutuality in ministry. I was being evangelized by them and my faith has never been the same.
It wasn't just my "attitude" that was changing. Day by day, by my being with them, by my entering their lives, by my accompanying them, I was experiencing their extraordinary faith, I was seeing their incredible goodness, I was falling in love with them. So, it wasn't a difficult task to hold up a mirror to them and say, "Look at yourselves: YOU are beloved, special, chosen daughters and sons of God--YOU are faithful servant friends of Jesus!" One time Archbishop Romero said, "With this people, it's easy to be a good shepherd." It's a truth: the people make the pastor.
Accompaniment can be the most intimate, transforming process imaginable--the reality of friendship--love is an ultimate expression of accompaniment--to BE WITH a person, to get inside of their skin, their life, their experiences, to know the world through their eyes, to stand with them and be at their side in their pain and struggles, to walk with them...That is love--and accompaniment is the way to it applies to contemporary spirituality.
So, there are various, many ways of talking about accompaniment...we've already mentioned "walking with", "sharing" the struggle, "being present to" the poor and suffering. I have a friend who goes to the hearings of the Immigration Service accompanying the folks without papers. She says she "stands with" them as they listen to the proceedings, to make sure they understand what's going on, to support them emotionally, to "stand with" them, to "be for" them.
The word "accompaniment" itself is intriguing: "to accompany" is to "go with another on an equal basis," to "go with or attend as a companion." (In French it has the same root as "companion" and its more basic meaning is sharing. They both come from the Latin ad cum panis which means "to go with bread." So, accompaniment has to do with a companion who attends a friend with bread, who "goes with" a friend with bread, who "breaks bread" with a friend, who shares food, who shares life. It sounds very Eucharistic, doesn't it? --like the old man who said the miracle of the loaves and fishes is really the miracle of sharing bread, the miracle of Eucharist.
Accompaniment and AIDS
I want to consider briefly and to conclude with my experience of accompanying people with AIDS in Honduras. Now I am the kind of person who had avoided ministry to the sick and dying all my ministerial life. I was uncomfortable with it, I didn't know what to say, and I was even more uncomfortable with trying to give consolation to a grieving family or loved ones.
One evening a doctor from a neighborhood clinic came to the door asking me to go to a 17-year-old girl who was dying of AIDS. She was a prostitute, and she'd been kicked out of the brothel when more of her symptoms began to appear, when she got close to death. I was to discover that her story was not untypical. She was from the countryside--I'll call her Rosa--a very simple girl from a very simple family. One day some people came to her village from the big city--San Pedro Sula--and told of work available in the maquilas, those small factories that produce all kinds of products for consumption in the U.S.--mostly fashionable clothes that you buy at the GAP or Marshall Field, or almost anyplace. Well, Rosa had no future in the countryside; she'd finished all the schooling available--six grades. Her parents were subsistent farmers, growing not enough food for the family. There was no work in the countryside, so she convinced her folks to let her go to the city to work in the maquila. She was 16.
But it was a trap. Rosa found herself in a very tight prostitution ring. At first, her friends said, she cried a lot, but then she got used to it. And she became very quiet and withdrawn...so much so that her owners had to move her from brothel to brothel. She was a fresh face but would quickly become withdrawn and passive. She couldn't escape--it was truly a situation of "white slavery"--she knew no one in the city; the other women were very nice to her, but they too knew they couldn't escape. There were usually a couple of thugs at the brothels--to keep control of drunken men, but also to keep an eye on the women so they wouldn't escape.
So, Rosa got infected with the HIV virus. She was 16. She had been chronically malnourished and anemic, so the disease moved rapidly. When they threw her out of the brothel, she was too ashamed to go back to her home. She thought her family could never accept what had happened to her, plus it would be a tremendous burden on them to try to care for a dying person with AIDS.
There's not much you can do, you know, for a terminal patient in a very poor country. No one has access to the sophisticated AIDS "cocktails" of the First World. They don't even have AZT and can't afford even anti-biotics or modern pain medicines. If the person is in and out of consciousness, your words mean very little; if they're in great pain or are vomiting or have other sickness, they often get obsessed with their discomfort and can't think of anything else. Some people with AIDS get dementia at the end. In general, it's a terrible way to die (though there are many exceptions to this -- unexplained exceptions -- and many people just slip away, with very little effort or pain.)
So, what do you do? In the six years I was in Honduras I know maybe 200 people who died of AIDS, and about 20 children. You just be there with them. You try to help with some of the physical things, but mostly you're just there. You offer to talk, you offer to talk about what's happening to them, you offer to talk about death and afterlife and God's love, and that Jesus has gone through it, and He's come back to guide us along this way, along the passage from this life to another life and you tell them that Jesus says, "Be at peace. I am with you." and how Jesus promised He would never abandon us but would be with us especially now, to show the way because He's gone that way before, because He died too, but came back to show us the way.
Some people want to talk; some want to talk about their whole life; some people want to go to confession and some people don't want to talk at all. You get your clue from them. You respect them and what's happening to them. You're just there ...and you wait with them... and they may open their eyes from a coma, or from just nodding off, and a face is there, or someone is holding their hand, or someone is asking if they'd like some water, or someone is praying softly.
So, that's accompaniment. It's nothing new, it's nothing striking or dramatic like some of the other examples we've talked about. But this is also a choice--a decision on your part. It's also a preferential option and a sign of solidarity with the suffering Jesus. The Missionary Sisters of Charity--the Mother Teresa of Calcutta group--make a fourth vow, to serve the poorest of the poor, to seek Jesus in his "disguise as the poorest of the poor." They aren't well trained--in theology or medicine or social work. They simply find themselves in places to accompany the poorest of the poor.
"I AM BECAUSE WE ARE"
UBUNTU, UBUNTU, UBUNTU!
The Art of Accompaniment is natural to who we are and what we do. Because human beings are fragile at birth, struggle in more ways than one during life and usually decline in our abilities as we enter our senior years, we are hard-wired in the art of accompaniment.
The 1624 poem, “No Man is An Island” written by John Donne, expresses the idea that human beings do poorly when isolated from others and must be part of an interdependent community to survive and thrive.
Yet, some cultures do not hesitate to shout out their self-autonomy. Do your own thing! Paddle your own canoe! Stand on your own two feet! But in other cultures, there is a strong awareness about the inability to survive alone. One beautiful example is South African culture and is illustrated by this true story, told in a number of versions, about the awareness of being and working together for the benefit of all.
There was an American sociologist that went to a village in South Africa. One day he noticed a group of children playing outside in the village square. They were no different than the kids in other parts of the world. Happy children, having a wonderful time. The sociologist went up to the group and said, “I want to play a game with you. I have a bag full of American toys and candy. I am going to set it down next to this tree. In a moment, I will say, ‘ready, set, go,’ and then you can rush to this bag of candy and grab as many toys and as much candy as you want.” Now, these kids had never seen anything like this before. The sociologist set the toys and candy next to tree and said, “Ready, set, go.”
It was in this moment that something magical happened. Not one of the South African children moved a muscle. Not one of them. They stood still for about 20 seconds and then one of the kids stood in front of his friends, looked at them and said, "UBUNTU, UBUNTU, UBUNTU!" Then he returned to the group and placed his hands on his hips. Each of the children interlocked their hands with his and they slowly and calmly walked to the candy and toys together. The treasures were shared among the kids, without neglecting the elderly folks who passed their time talking in the village square. They even included their pet dogs, cats and small wild animals who were brave enough to join in.
The word “Ubuntu” (pronounced oo-boon-too) is a South African word used in the Zulu and Xhosa languages. The word is best translated, “I Am Because We Are.” While the word is spoken differently in the many South African dialects, it is a natural and shared philosophy among the South African people. Humans need each other for survival and well-being. We are interconnected to one another in the web of life. We are in this world and life together and we need one another.
In addition to the philosophical-social meaning of interconnectedness, the word Ubuntu has a spiritual meaning. It is about how we are with one another, without conscious thought. By honoring the sacred in one another, we honor the sacred within ourselves. It is a generosity of spirit, sharing, living in harmony, because we cannot function spiritually without the gifts of everyone. It is knowing that our world, and we ourselves, are diminished whenever injustice, oppression or humiliation takes place. It is about being open and available to others, knowing that we have a place in God’s world, and so does everyone else, so we have no need to think too highly or lowly of ourselves or others.
Ubuntu is a deeply theological and spiritual perspective that empowers us to know we and others are loved by God, and that we are all in this together, no matter where we come from. When we can begin to understand and live Ubuntu, we can learn how to truly forgive ourselves and others, returning to the goodness God made us for.
Closer to home, the goodness we are made for is brought to reality daily in Catholic Charities’ Mission Statement, Leadership Model and everyday ministry which are all rooted in Catholic Social Teaching and applied through the Art of Accompaniment. This suggests that the story of Ubuntu, no matter what version is told, is our story of trekking together for the benefit of the people we serve and our own.
Looking for more meaning about “Ubuntu” on the internet is itself an experience of this collective African philosophy. Authoritative definitions, academic papers, blog posts like this one, personal stories and videos of all sorts attempt to explain the miracle. I recommend watching “What I Learned from Nelson Mandela” a TED talk by Boyd Varty: https://www.ted.com/talks/boyd_varty_what_i_learned_from_nelson_mandela?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tedspread
THE ART OF ACCOMPANIMENT
A SACRED CALLING
The Art of Accompaniment is a sacred calling from God to actively care for one another using the best of our knowledge, abilities, and skills, with the generous grace of God guiding and encouraging us. Accompaniment is the art of building relationships through active listening, easy availability, sympathetic understanding, ready flexibility, keen sensitivity, unrelenting patience and reliable trust. The purpose of accompaniment is an initial and deeper transformation into the people God calls each of us to be.
WHEN IT STARTED
In the biblical story of creation, God inaugurates accompaniment by creating human beings in his own image and likeness. He calls them to actively care for creation and for each other (Genesis 1:27-30). God emphasizes his concern for humans during his conversation with Abraham, “I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7). We are created to be in relationship.
HOW IT’S DONE
In the Jewish scriptures, God’s calling is answered by Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi, who accompanied her widowed mother-in-law to Bethlehem. “Do not press me to go back and abandon you! Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:6).
As a mentor, the priest Eli accompanied the young Samuel who was brought to the Temple at Shiloh by his mother Hannah. “Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, so he said to him, “Go back to bed; and if he calls you again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went back to bed. The Lord came and stood there, and called as he had before, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak Lord; your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:8-10).
In the Christian scriptures, Jesus skillfully practiced the art of accompaniment in his direct and dynamic care for people: when he speaks with a Samaritan woman at a well in Sychar (John 4:4-29) and when he first called and then taught his disciples (Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 5:18-7:28). Also, when he encountered the sick (Mark 1:29-2:12), raised the dead and after his resurrection by appearing to disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Before his death Jesus promised an everlasting relationship with himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always” (John 14:16).
The art of accompaniment is an art which means that it has and continues to be practiced during ever-changing times in ever changing new ways.
As a young campus minister at the University of Krakow, St. John Paul II accompanied students not only by providing the sacraments but by being with them during significant and often difficult times of their young lives.
In his 2007 apostolic exhortation, The Sacrament of Charity, Pope Benedict XVI called the Church to accompany people who have heard God’s call to join their lives with Christ with pastoral care that is gentle and truthful.
Pope Francis echoes God’s calling by encouraging the art of accompaniment in his apostolic exhortations. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis emphasizes the need for all Catholics to practice the art of accompaniment to evangelize. “The Church will have to initiate everyone---priests, religious, and laity---into the art of accompaniment, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” Pope Francis continues to share his thoughts and inspiration about the art of accompaniment in his homilies, prayers and pastoral ministry.
By our grace-filled human nature, we are called to accompany each other day in and day out wives and husbands with each other, and parents with their children. Friends, relatives, teachers, co-workers —as well as complete strangers — may come into our lives as companions who generously care for us and who desperately need care from us.
ACCOMPANIMENT AND CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING
Catholic Social Teaching is a collection of beliefs and values about the dignity of human beings and God’s love for all creation. Since 1891, popes, bishops, and people of faith working together with ecumenical councils and synods have carefully distinguished seven themes characterizing what makes a fair and just world: 1. The life and dignity of the human person, 2. The call to family, community and participation, 3. Solidarity 4. The dignity of work 5. Rights and responsibilities 6. Option for the poor, and 7. Care for God’s creation. Like a conductor directs an orchestra of talented musicians playing horns, strings, keyboards, and percussion, the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching sometimes together and sometimes alone — direct the art of accompaniment.
CATHOLIC CHARITIES AND THE ART OF ACCOMPANIMENT
Inspired by God’s love and compassion, the mission of Catholic Charities’ staff, volunteers and benefactors is to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor and those in need on the Western Slope and along the Front Range of Colorado, and in Wyoming. We work to fulfill our mission by following five principles of accompaniment:
- We are available to every client. We are especially available to those who may not know or be able to ask for what they need.
- We embrace each client without judgment, even if others judge them harshly because they do not seem to fit a common standard of living.
- We allow each client to tell his or her own story, while being sensitive to how personal experiences may have and/or may continue to traumatize his or her life.
- We are patient with a client, gradually building a relationship of trust by keeping true to what we say, do, and promise.
- We are aware that no matter how hard we try; some clients can be difficult. Nevertheless, God’s grace is the power behind accompaniment. Through our active presence, God is at work in the lives of our clients lives and our own.
The art of accompaniment is living in God’s world together. The goal is to give the best of ourselves to others so that their needs are diminished and a more just world is created. The art of accompaniment is successful when we truly walk the road together knowing that God walks with us.