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Trekking Together

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 rkelly@ccdenver.org.

WELCOME TO “TREKKING TOGETHER”

"Accompaniment from El Salvador on..."

by Jim Barnett, O.P.
1938-2019

 

The following was an intended oral presentation edited by Justice Martinez, Arrupe Jesuit High School Intern

Introduction.

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

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).

ACCOMPANIMENT CONTINUES

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.

SUMMARY

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.

CONTACT US

CONTACT US

Catholic Charities Denver
6240 Smith Road
Denver, CO 80216
303-742-0828

Larimer County Services
Summit County Services
Weld County Services
Western Slope Services

Catholic Charities Denver
6240 Smith Road
Denver, CO 80216
303-742-0828

Larimer County Services
Summit County Services
Weld County Services
Western Slope Services

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MAKE A DONATION

Mail Donations to:
6240 Smith Road
Denver, CO 80216
303-742-0828

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720-799-9311

Catholic Charities of Denver is a 501(c)(3) Organization
EIN: 84-0686679

Mail Donations to:
6240 Smith Road
Denver, CO 80216
303-742-0828

Donation support :
donorrelations@ccdenver.org
720-799-9311

Catholic Charities of Denver is a 501(c)(3) Organization
EIN: 84-0686679

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