Note: The following blog post was written by Abbey King, a sophomore from Regis College in Denver who is studying Peace and Justice, and History. An earlier version of this reflection was offered as part of Abbey’s work in the course ‘Contemplatives in Action.’ This particular week, we had been reading the work of Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila (part of our work of seeking out some of the roots of the Christian idea of contemplation) together with Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s important treatise on Jesuit higher education and the commitment to solidarity. One of the things we try to cultivate among the students in the Casa de la Mateada program is a sustained interaction between their everyday experience in Argentina and the learning that is taking place in the classroom. What follows is one example of this integrative work.
Last week, we went school supply shopping with Adriana from Nuestro Hogar III (one of our praxis sites). There were several striking moments that could, if seen in connection with one another, serve as a nice summary of our day. Whether I were to tell you of the unexpected kindness of the man at the register who gave us the bulk discount even though we were no where near the required minimum, the story of the beggar who berated us in the street, or even the details of another wild ride on the E1 bus, none of these tales would capture the feelings of warmth and friendship that, for me, characterize the entire experience. This was only the second time any of us had met Adriana, and yet, by the time we sat down to share empanadas at lunch, it felt like we all had been friends for years, and these chaotic shopping trips filled with laughter, confusion, and a lot of math were commonplace for us.
Perhaps this is why I was so struck in reading about St. Teresa of Avila’s life and theological practice, for “in her work, friendship replaces honor as the primary form of social connectedness.” Of course, this had its own implications in Teresa’s social context, but, for me, as I am beginning to delve into the realities of life in Córdoba, the principle of friendship as the primary form of social connectedness is the best explanation of the pillar of “accompaniment” I have been able to come up with thus far. Friendship requires us to recognize the humanity in ourselves and in others and then build a bond upon that recognition. So, to be present to the journey of another, and to be vulnerable enough to allow someone to be present to your journey in return, is, at its most basic level, friendship. But, if it were that simple, we wouldn’t bother with the big, fancy concept of accompaniment; there is something transformative about “accompaniment” that indicates a deeper level of social connectedness than friendship alone conveys.
Even just from this brief encuentro with Adrianna, it is clear to me that accompaniment is more than our presence to each other’s journeys; it is the merging of our separate journeys into one. It marks the beginning of a new journey that is shared, from its very inception, with another human being. It requires us to ask ourselves, and our fellow journeyers, as St. Ignatius of Loyola asked himself as he transitioned from his life of sin into a life of holiness, “What new life is this that we are now beginning?” There is real profundity in the social connection created by accompaniment that marks a distinct beginning, a place of friendship and community from which to jointly define a shared reality.
Upon living in this new, shared reality, we must then reflect upon the joy, suffering, peace, injustice, love, and truth experienced by those whom we are accompanying; this is ultimately how we reach the promotion of justice that is central to the mission of the Jesuits. At conference on the “Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education,” Fr. Peter Kolvenbach, S.J. acknowledged, “personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.” Thus, it is in opening our hearts, making deep personal connections, and actually experiencing the lives of others in their totality that we are able to share in the feeling of having one’s sense of humanity violated. This sensation of being so deeply wronged, even through bearing witness to the direct experience of a close friend, is what motivates us to initiate change, to eradicate injustice. Thereby, I would argue that friendship–or perhaps more appropriately accompaniment–with the marginalized is the cornerstone of social change.