Sunday, October 07, 2012

Five pillars of peace - and mission

After finishing watching the film Of Gods and Men two weeks ago on the killing of seven Trappist monks in Algeria in 1996, I decided to re-read John W. Kiser’s book, The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria, which I finished today.

The book is good, though it’s easy to get lost in the numerous persons and groups that provide the framework for understanding the lives and deaths of the monks.

But in Kiser's book, I came across a reference to a retreat that the prior, Christian De Chergé, gave just weeks before he was kidnapped.

He spoke of five pillars of peace which I found helpful – not just for understanding what peace is but also as five pillars for mission.

Today I found the talk in La esperanza invincible  [Unconquerable Hope], a book I bought a while ago but never got around to read. Here’s my translation of Dom Christian’s summary of the five pillars of peace:

I believe that without these five pillars no peace is possible. But peace is, above all, a gift of God. It is given to us. We do not say that peace doesn’t exist; it is there. Simply, we must work to let it emerge:

Patience – Patience
Poverty – Pauvreté
Presence – Présence
Prayer – Prière
Pardon /Forgiveness – Pardon

It just so happens that Forgiveness is the first name of God in the [Muslim] litany of the 99 [names of God],  Ar Rahman. And Patience is the last of the 99, Es Sabour. But God Himself is poor, God Himself is present, and God Himself is prayer.

Here is the peace which God give. Not as the peace the world gives.

That was what the monastery of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhurine, Algeria, tried to live.

I think they also have a lot to say to me, a missionary in Honduras.

Patience is definitely needed. How many times have I felt the need for patience when I’m waiting for someone to show up or when I can’t understand what someone is saying. But I also need patience in relation to myself – my failures, my cultural faux pas, my faulty Spanish, and more. Patience helps me put things in perspective, not jumping as quickly to conclusions that are based in my background as a privileged inhabitant of this planet.

Poverty: In an extremely poor country, I can never be poor or seen as poor, but I can try to live a slightly austere life. Being a vegetarian helps. If I weren’t, the people would kill a chicken every time I visited a village, even though they themselves might eat meat less than five times a month. But taking small portions (partly because I can’t eat as much as many of these hard working people do) is also a part of trying to be closer to the poor. But, above all, poverty means recognizing the dignity and capacities of the poor. I may have more education, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I really know more than many people I work with. We can learn together – sharing strengths and filling up each others’ weaknesses.

Presence is central. I am not here to save Honduras. I am here to accompany the people – in their joys and sorrows, in their struggles and their victories. That doesn’t mean I don’t have projects that I work on or that I don’t use my education and training in my work with educational projects. It does mean that I work to see that the people here, especially those poor and marginalized, become the protagonists of their life and work.

Prayer is absolutely needed. I need to pray to let my life be based in a relationship with the God of Love, who became flesh as a poor man in a country suffering oppression. Without a vision like this, I don’t think I’d be able to live with such faith and joy.

Pardon: At times I have to ask forgiveness due to my cultural ineptness. But I also need to learn to forgive when I see something as a snub, when it really may just be that my cultural expectations are not likely be met by a different. Forgiveness reminds me that we all are incomplete and need forgiveness. In this I remember Hannah Arendt’s analysis of forgiveness in  The Human Condition: forgiveness breaks the chain of the irreversibility past and enables us to act. We are not bound by what happened; we can go forward – and we can let others go forward.

These are just some preliminary thoughts, inspired by a martyr. I need to pray and reflect on these words since I believe they can help us understand better what  real mission means.

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