Remembering the L'Arche International 2017 Assembly in Belfast
Being signs of peace in places of conflict is an ever important reality L'Arche communities live out across the world. Whether interpersonal, political, cultural, or other types of conflict, living community in L'Arche is an invitation to bridge division, within ourselves and with others.
At the end of June, about 500 L'Arche members from 37 countries gathered in Belfast for the L'Arche International Assembly to meet, celebrate, pray and learn from one another's experiences, while launching L'Arche into the future. I was invited to go as a new member of the International Federation Council and joined my L'Arche Chicago pals Mic and Anders there. Together we had a taste of peace, connected to joy.
Seeing many people smiling at each other as if they already knew one another, speaking different languages but understanding "the heart of it," sharing stories, was quite a sign of peace - peace with a smile (a genuine, not forced, smile) - in a city that has known years of territorial conflict.
Previous international L'Arche assemblies were held in Atlanta, birthplace of nonviolent civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., in Calcutta, visited by Gandhi for a peace mission in the midst of local riots, and Assisi, where Saint Francis lived his way of peace with creation.
In Belfast, the days shared together at the assembly intertwined moments of formation with occasions for celebration, times of prayer with small group activities, meal-sharing with times for leisure. We also took time to vote for our new L'Arche International leaders: Stacy, who accompanied our Chicago community in the past, and Stephan.
During our time at the assembly we also celebrated Anders' birthday. On that day, after visiting the Titanic museum, which Anders was very much looking forward to seeing, a surprise cake with candles was awaiting for him as the dinner dessert. The whole dining room started singing and clapping "Happy birthday!" to him, as he smiled surprised (but maybe somewhat expecting it). What an enthusiastic moment.
It was particularly live-giving, and touching, for me to meet people from isolated communities, for example L'Arche in Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Haiti, Japan and Brazil. For each I have a memory, an encounter, that I still treasure.
When meeting Ghada, community leader of L'Arche Al-Safina (Damascus, Syria), Mic, Anders and I handed to her the "peace dove" we at L'Arche Chicago had created at a recent community night, with peace messages written for our Syrian sisters and brothers. Ghada, with her elegant and warm smile, was happy to receive this gift and to bring it back to her community.
I have recently heard from Dalal, who is a member of L'Arche al-Fulk (El Minia, Egypt). When I first met her at the assembly, I was touched by her joyful and bright smile as she walked around and approached people. Considering the religious persecution of Christians going on in the country, it is a sign of hope to know L'Arche is present there.
What a touch of style seeing Yuki, core member of L’Arche Kana-no-ie (Shizuoka-Shi, Japan), going to a celebration night with her gentle quiet smile and dressed with a Japanese kimono; what a breeze of fresh air it was to share dinner with Cristiano and his lively accompanier Olivia from Arca do Brasil (Sao Paolo), with her vitalizing smile, as I talked to them with my invented Portoguese (an interesting mix of Italian, Spanish and a few Portoguese words) - various times I saw them walk around the campus where the assembly was taking place with such gentleness and connection.
It became ever more clear in Belfast that, as lived in this L'Arche International Assembly, peace across differences is possible - an authentic peace with a genuine smile.