Living out Fraternity
A french experience, I saw and lived
Let us admit that, for all the progress we have made, we are still “illiterate” when it comes to accompanying, caring for and supporting the most frail and vulnerable members of our developed societies. We have become accustomed to looking the other way, passing by, ignoring situations until they affect us directly. (Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti)
Different nations, cultures, associations do have several examples which help them grow in fraternity. I want to share of one such venture in France by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), which is called “JRS Welcome.” This is one of the innumerable programs available in France and other countries to help the refugees to be welcomed and integrated into the culture. As part of this program, one refugee is welcomed for a few weeks (4 to 6 weeks) in a French family or a religious community, irrespective of their religion and nationality. After a certain period, they move to another family and so on. Integration into the culture doesn’t mean they throw away everything of their culture and traditions.
I know a few families who are part of this program, and they welcome persons two or three times a year. My Jesuit community also have welcomed 4 persons during my stay here. Though there is always a risk associated with welcoming a new person (not the risk of danger, but of compatibility, adjustability etc), these experiences have been enriching for both the sides. Many a times, they create lasting friendships beyond the religion, language and culture. What a wonderful example of “fraternity and hospitality in action” for the children in those families who welcome somebody.
I find this extremely interesting when I look at the French family systems. They are very free in their expressions of love and feelings in public, but french families are still a very private affair. You visit a family on an invitation. The “rendez-vous” is always taken. (This is not always the case in India, where I come from). The freedom, autonomy and independence of families are very precious. But they are extremely hospitable too. There are many gatherings and get-togethers, but I think it is again limited to a close-circle. They are perfectly okay with interactions with strangers outside the house and in the streets, with doing a lot of charity, but welcoming someone into home is not so easily done. I won’t say that it is due to malaise, but it is not their style of doing things. Analysing these things (these are my subjective sentiments), it is not in that line of thought to welcome a stranger into their home, create friendships and give hospitality to them for a longer duration.
But, innumerable families (through JRS or other associations) take that giant-leap, which results in fraternity and hospitality happening in the ground.
I remember one saying by French orthodox theologian on Taizé, “Everyone preach about ecumenism, Taizé lives ecumenism”. Pope Francis might say the same of such families, “Everyone preaches fraternity and hospitality, some families live it out”.
NB: Different parts of the world give innumerable examples of living fraternity, and such inspirations must be repeated in more and more places, for the creation of a more equitable world.