BUILD BRIDGES 2: Art is greater than fear

FaithFaithWe cannot be a fraternity of “no”. Once, a young person in the parish 20 years ago told me: “You, in the Church, always say ‘no’!” We are not called to stand by the side and criticize what is happening in the world. Not even supporters! We are called to be actors.

In Christus vivit, Pope Francis says something similar:
“Although many young people are happy to see a Church that is humble yet confident in her gifts and capable of offering fair and fraternal criticism, others want a Church that listens more, that does more than simply condemn the world. They do not want to see a Church that is silent and afraid to speak, but neither one that is always battling obsessively over two or three issues. To be credible to young people, there are times when she needs to regain her humility and simply listen, recognizing that what others have to say can provide some light to help her better understand the Gospel. A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum. How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people? Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure.” (Christus vivit, 41)
Taking inspiration from this insight of Pope Francis, I would like to take one form of listening: being attentive to art. I would like to let a piece of art provoke a rereading of our roots so that we can better understand how we are called to contribute in building bridges. So, rather than be exhaustive, I would like to propose a method that we can use and improve upon in our own fraternities.

Lorenzo Quinn’s “Building bridges” For the occasion of this year’s (2019) Venice art biennale, Lorenzo Quinn (son of actor Anthony Quinn) unveiled his latest work entitled ‘Building Bridges’. Venice has been chosen as the ideal location for Quinn’s largest work to date as it has long been a meeting point for international trade and a melting pot of diverse cultures. The installation, which spans 20 meters in width and 15 meters in height even resembles the famous bridges which characterize the city. The artist comments:
'Venice is a world heritage city and it is the city of bridges. It is the perfect location to spread a message of world unity and peace so that more of us around the world build bridges with others rather than walls and barriers.’
This artistic creation is made up of hands joined together to symbolize our commonality, what we share together, and our ability to unite, to bridge differences in all aspects of life – geographically, spiritually, philosophically, culturally and emotionally. The hands suggest a need for contact beyond self-interest, striving for human collaboration and unity. Quinn uses them to communicate complex emotions through a lexicon of gestures and touch, reflecting an ethos of connection and exchange through the language of art. Each pair of the sculpture’s hands celebrate one of six universal human values. In Quinn’s words: FriendshipFriendship
“Friendship, to build the future together; Wisdom, to make mutually beneficial decisions; Help, to cement lasting relationships; Faith, to trust in your heart and self-worth; Hope, to persevere in worthwhile endeavours; and Love, the fundamental purpose for it all”
Can we take these as point of departure? I am sure you brought your own ideas. What is important is that we listen humbly to let our beloved Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, teach us once again how to be a fraternity in the world today.

1. FRIENDSHIP: to build the future together
1.1 “The solemnity of two palms touching gently but firmly creates a symmetry expressing a state of trust and support, based on mutual experience and looking ahead to a future together.”
These words that accompany the first theme express a great longing and an important insight, especially the emphasis on mutuality and looking ahead together.

1.2 It brings resonance with the life and choices of Brother Charles. On the one hand, in his writings, we can see his denunciation of how the French colonial system is based on self-interest. He predicted the tragic consequences that the lack of investment in real education that leads people to dialogue as equals will lead to. On the other hand, he lived in a radical way the “Nazareth way of life” through becoming a “universal brother”. This radical way meant sharing the life and uncertainties of the Touaregs. The moment when he was close to death due to malnutrition, when the locals saved him with the milk they could collect, that moment turned out to be the most crucial moment: mutuality was possible. Friendship is not possible where superiority is still the foundation of our relationships.

1.3 What are we called to rediscover in our spirituality? I would like to draw on the challenge of René Voillaume to those who take their Christian mission as followers of Brother Charles seriously. First of all he reminds us that we are not called to share an empty friendship.
“To have been given a mission to make Jesus’ Gospel, His beatitudes and His loving friendship with the poor ‘present’ by living in the world … is something much too big for us to be able to discover entirely in a single stroke.”
But let us be reminded that people are looking for life: “people are dying of hunger and thirst because they are so far away from Him who is Life, and what they want is a presence: the presence of Life; unknowingly, they are seeking a person – a divine person – and this person is Love incarnate, Jesus.”
This is the basis for our spirituality of friendship:
“So let us have no other point of reference than Jesus at Nazareth, with the will to imitate Him with all our love. If we are really united with our Lord, if we keep our eyes trained upon Jesus living and working at Nazareth, then, like Father de Foucauld, we shall be able to remain open to people’s solicitations and meet them as our mission in the Church requires”
The second aspect that I want to draw from Voillaume’s reflections is the sense of disinterestedness.
“What Jesus requires of us above all else is that we give ourselves in utterly disinterested friendship; that we love fraternally and tenderly all those He sends us and especially the most forsaken and those who suffer most”.
Writing in the 1950’s he claimed that modern civilization is becoming technical and “if this tendency continues” people will be “treated less and less like a person – I mean, like the unique person each one is, with a heart of his own, sufferings of his own, his own problems, his own joys and family which belongs to nobody but him” . Thus the call to offer our witness as a counterweight by choosing “a handful of men and women who are miserable, poor, sick – those He will choose for us – and that we should love them… with friendship, tenderly, like persons and not like cases for assistance”.

The Icon of Friendship presented during the funeral of Jean Vanier captures quite well the spirituality that nourishes our contribution to friendship. Jesus, establishes a friendship with us on the basis of mutuality. Blessed by this we can look to the future together to bless others in the same way.

WisdomWisdom2. WISDOM:to make mutually beneficial decisions

2.1The meeting of hands young and old evokes knowledge and understanding crossing generations. Access to information has increased exponentially. Moreover, the locus of control has also shifted. If before few people had access to information – normally in libraries, monasteries, universities – those who were trained or adults. Now the access to information by children and young people does not necessarily have to pass through some kind of control and mediation. This new reality opens up possibilities unheard of before. But it also calls for a new relation between generations because on it’s own it does not necessarily lead to wisdom. Another kind of bridge is necessary, because the same access to information can be controlled in other ways, fake news shape emotions and decisions, and ideological colonization leads to servitude towards consumption and loss of humanity.

2.2 It is for this reason that it is worth studying the insights of Pope Francis in his post-synodal exhortation Christus Vivit on this subject. i. If there is something that adults can offer to young people, that can only be done if the starting point is not teaching but listening. It is remarkable that this is being said by the Pope in a Church that a few years back divided itself in “ecclesia docens” – teaching Church – mainly hierarchy, and “ecclesia discerns”- the rest.

Instead Pope Francis affirms:
“Those of us who are no longer young need to find ways of keeping close to the voices and concerns of young people. “Drawing together creates the conditions for the Church to become a place of dialogue and a witness to life giving fraternity”.
We need to make more room for the voices of young people to be heard:
"Our listening makes possible an exchange of gift in a context of empathy .. At the same time, it sets the conditions for a preaching of the Gospel that can touch the heart truly, decisively and fruitfully”. Christus vivit, 38.
I would like to think that the years of Jesus in Nazareth were the secret of his creative parables that connected with the real life of people. Where can we hear young people as fraternities?

ii. Secondly, we must keep in mind that with all good intentions we might be building walls with young people. That’s if we only focus on difficulties:
“We adults can often be tempted to list all the problems and failings of today’s young people. Perhaps some will find it praiseworthy that we seem so expert in discerning difficulties and dangers. But what would be the result of such an attitude? Greater distance, less closeness, less mutual assistance.” Christus Vivit, 66.
In order to build bridges with young people we need to look at reality with the eyes of faith and be able to discern that which we can bridge with: Anyone called to be a parent, pastor or guide to young people must have the farsightedness to appreciate the little flame that continues to burn, the fragile reed that is shaken but not broken (cf. Is 42,3). The ability to discern pathways where others only see walls, to recognize potential where others see only peril.” Christus vivit, 67. (See also Christus vivit, 84.)

Can we train ourselves in the fraternities to look in this way? Can we make a list?

iii) Thirdly, it’s taking risks together. Pope Francis quotes a beautiful image from one of the young auditors from the Samoan islands:
“He sees the Church as a canoe, in which the elderly help to keep on course by judging the position of the stars, while the young keep rowing, imagining what waits for them ahead. Let us steer clear of young people who think that adults represent a meaningless past, and those adults who always think they know how young people should act. Instead, let us all climb aboard the same canoe and together seek a better world, with the constantly renewed momentum of the Holy Spirit”. Christus vivit, 201.
This implies learning from history, healing old wounds that still trouble us, and look to the future to let dreams emerge. What is the dream that we want to share with young people in the fraternities?

2.3 This vision enables us to continue to discover the roots of our spirituality: the desire to share the Gospel with our lives through following Jesus in Nazareth.
“The lamp in us has been put there by Jesus, and has been lit by Him in the measure in which we have given ourselves to Him. (…) If those among whom we live come with eagerness to light themselves by our lamp and drink from our spring of living water, we must first take care to be littler, poorer, more abandoned to Jesus, and then let them warm themselves, let them drink, and allow ourselves to be devoured by those men who are so much poorer than we because they have not yet found the Kingdom. (…) The Kingdom must be able to appear to them through us in all its realness: the patience, the peace, the force of Christ, and also Christ’s demand for justice - all this enveloped, as it were, in love and void of all hatred” .
HelpHelp3. HELP:to cement lasting relationships

3.1 “Help” can sound hollow, patronizing when done with an air of superiority. It can also refer to isolated acts that serve more to quiet one’s conscience than a change in our individualistic lifestyle. But Quinn’s subtitle and symbolism point to something deeper. • “to cement lasting relationships”. • “The connection of two hands symbolising both empathy and understanding in a state of physical, emotional and moral support that builds lasting relationships.”

3.2 One of the challenges we identified in the European context, is the use of Christian symbolism to divide rather than unite, and specifically with respect to Muslims and Islamophobia. Some commented that the kind of language used today was unthinkable yesterday, but seems ok to use it now.

I would like to suggest that as fraternities one could take the commitment to study the document signed on February 4, 2019 in Abu Dhabi by His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb. This historical “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” is also a concrete sign of what Pope Francis means when he says “we should start processes”. And to those who only identify the challenges in this area and stop there, I am always reminded of the retired archbishop of Algiers, HE Mons Henri Teissier. A few months after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers, one of the university students where he was delivering a speech questioned the possibility of progress. He replied: “We need geological patience. We have been looking against each other for centuries. Now we have changed the direction. We need the patience to walk it.”

Back to “Help”. What can we highlight from this document. i. First of all the document starts with a list of sufferings related to the “fraternity”. Thus: - In the name of orphans, widows, refugees … - In the name of peoples who have lost their security, peace … - In the name of this fraternity torn apart by policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women.

As Pope Francis likes to repeat, we need to learn to cry in order to contribute to something meaningful. To know how to listen and be close to the suffering of Muslims in our own contexts and together with Muslims to listen to the sufferings of others. ii) The document not only identifies the role of religions in the construction of world peace but also upholds a number of specific elements. I would like to point out the following in a special way:

- The freedom as a right of every person is supported by the following: “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His Wisdom, through which He created human beings.

- The concept of citizenship is based on the equality of rights and duties under which all enjoy justice. It is therefore crucial to establish in our societies the concept of full citizenship and reject the discriminatory use of the term minorities which engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority. Its misuse paves the way for hostility and discord. To work together to help on the level of society is crucial.

iii. While the document recognizes the positive steps taken by modern civilization, it also laments “a moral deterioration that influences international action and a weakening of spiritual values and responsibility”.

This is a challenging theme in the West about which Muslims are quite sensitive. Here the document points out the value of cultures enriching each other through fruitful exchange and dialogue.
“The West can discover in the East remedies for those spiritual and religious maladies that are caused by a prevailing materialism.”

This was received positively by a number of Muslim of intellectuals around the world who responded by giving support for this process through a document entitled “Fraternity for Knowledge and Cooperation”

LoveLove3.3 Where does our spirituality become aflame again? It might sound as a cliché when I refer to prayer and adoration. Taking up the comments of Voillaume once again, we are invited to go deeper in the way we unite our experience in the world and our union with God. This invitation to prayer also comes from Muslims themselves. When I finished the mass of Our lady of sorrows in my school, a Muslim girl came to me and said: “With the permission of my parents, could you please pray for the situation in Libya?”

Christian de Chergé was transformed by the challenge of his Muslim friend: “You Christians do not take prayer seriously”.

But back to our tradition. When Voillaume was describing the kind of prayer implied in the charism of Charles de Foucauld, he states:
“It is Jesus’ own silent adoration of the Father that must come into us through the Holy Eucharist. And since we shall not be able to leave behind the weight of other souls with their misery, our prayer will be more like what occurred with Jesus when, worn with fatigue, He would go up into a mountain to pray in secret, carrying with Him (how, indeed, could the Redeemer have done otherwise?) the whole load of the moral and physical sufferings He had seen displayed before Him in the course of the day.”
So first of all carrying in our adoration the suffering, miseries, divisions of our society, of fellow Muslims, of migrants. As he says:
“Adoration that comes from a heart completely open to its neighbour is therefore the truest and purest kind of adoration”.
Then he continues by touching a level of our heart that marks both prayer life and dialogue with others including Muslims:
“Whatever your prayer may be like at any time, in connecting it up with the Heart of Jesus and, when you have done all you can yourselves, opening up your emptiness to Him and letting Him fill it with His own prayer. The trouble , of course, is that we are so loath to admit our emptiness. We always want to have something that is ours to give. But perfection, even where prayer is concerned, lies in being able to accept one’s indigence”.
Thus the invitation to accept our limits and vulnerability and be open to receive first of all from God but also from Muslims and from people of other cultures.

Conclusion One way to go beyond being a Church of the “no”, a fraternity of the “no” is to be humble, listen to what is going on around us, appreciate the signs of the Gospel and build bridges with them. But for our “Yes” to be true and life giving, we should then let life push us to rediscover the depth of the Gospel and the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld. As Pope John XXIII said:
“It is not the Gospel that changes. It is we that start to understand it better.”
HopeHope May this prayer by Antoinette Boutros from the fraternity of Lebanon accompany in this journey with Jesus of Nazareth:

Before this icon of friendship presented as an offering at the funeral mass of Jean Vanier, I thank you Lord for the witness of this man who was an inspiration for our time.

I thank you for the witness of so many men and women who live the sacrament of the relationship and friendship in the hiding place of their daily lives. I thank you for the moments of presence, listening, gratitude and tenderness lived and offered in joy and freedom.

I thank you for the weaknesses and fragility of each one, a reflection of our humanity: accepted in humility, they are no longer darkness but a source of light in our world attracted by the search for perfection and power.
Lord, we entrust to you our visible and hidden handicaps so that by Your unconditional Love you can bring us closer to each other on a path of light that leads us together to You.
Antoinette Boutros

1-Cf. [Accessed 1 June 2019] 2-RENÉ VOILLAUME, Seeds of the Desert like Jesus at Nazareth, Hertfordshire 1985, 72-73. 3-Seeds of the Desert, 76. 4-Seeds of the Desert, 77. 5-Seeds of the Desert, 75-6. 6- [Accessed 12 July 2019] 7-Seeds of the Desert, 65. 8-Seeds of the Desert, 66.