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Tuesday, June 20th
Welcome: it is easy to forget or remain blind to the fact that many people in our world are not really welcomed, including many with a disability. L’Arche stands for welcoming each person, just as they are.
Welcome: it is a question of human dignity.
Belfast and L’Arche, it’s all about building a better world
“Stop assuming you know about Belfast. Start by listening to the people here. Stop seeing us as a two-dimensional caricature of reconciliation. Start seeing the colourful reality. Stop imagining we are a city obsessed with the past. Open your eyes to a creative population building an exciting future.” It was a strong message, but exactly what we needed to hear. Out went our preconceived ideas: no more pretty logo showing a handshake of forgiveness. In came a flood of colour, depth and real people facing real issues today: in other words: engage the reality that we are, not the myth that you want us to be.
Their point is that Belfast is a city of many sides, great depth, and a whole splash of colour. Its long journey towards peace is vital, but there is so much more to say, see and celebrate. The past can be very present here, but in its heart, Belfast is truly a city of the future. And that is exactly why Belfast is the right place for L'Arche to hold our Federation Assembly. For L'Arche too is about the future: we are a community already shaping a future of justice, inclusion and solidarity.
Celebrations, reflections, meetings with friends: these, of course, play an important part of any L'Arche gathering. But here at Belfast, more than ever, L'Arche is facing into the great questions of our world; a chance to listen to voices too rarely heard speaking about the issues that confront each of us. Our theme is ‘Re-membering our future … Rappeler l’A-venir ensemble’.
Why Belfast? It is because both Belfast and L'Arche are about building a better world.
Imagine a world where each person is welcomed
Imagine: the colours are alive, the music makes you hum, St. Patrick suddenly appears in front of you (not to mention God dressed in gold!), and in the middle of everything, 500 pairs of eyes are fixed on a strange round wooden boat, an Irish coracle, carried in, shoulder high. And then you hear the traditional Gallic welcome: Cead mile failté, from L'Arche Belfast. Not just one welcome, but 100,000 welcomes!
100,000 welcomes! Clearly, a far greater number than just than the delegates gathered here at Queen’s University, even including the many new communities we applauded into the Federation. Even including the four communities excluded for visa reasons: Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Uganda. In solidarity with them, we touch one of the burning issues of our world. Patrick, the International Leader welcomed them directly: “We are very sad that you are not here with us, but during this week, we will remember you. You are part of us.”
100,000 welcomes! L'Arche, like the Irish culture takes the idea of welcome well beyond the usual limits: what about the many people waiting for their society to fully recognise their contribution? Eileen, the Vice-International Leader, called them to mind. L'Arche cannot physically welcome everyone: But nothing can stop us saying: Welcome – it is a question of human dignity!
500 of us were welcomed to Belfast. But they were only the ones we could see. Imagine this: the spirit of Belfast 2017 is already welcoming L'Arche into the future.