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Paz y Bien: Living as Minority


The third part of the Paz y Bien nonviolence series by lay missioner Annemarie Barrett:
“Poverty is a way of being by which the individual lets thing be what they are; one refuses to dominate them, subjugate them, and make them the objects of the will to power. One refuses to be over them in order to be with them.” (Boff, page 35)

“As a facilitator, you should not dominate the conversation nor jump into the discussion or dispute with the right answer… The assumption is not that you have all the answers, but that you are a co-learner and explorer who supports the growth of the group.” (Engage, page 254)

I believe there is a fundamental connection between these two passages. Do you see it too?

The first is a passage from “Francis of Assisi: A Model for Human Liberation,” a book by Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff that we read as a part of our formation as Franciscan lay missioners and to me it expresses how we are called to live as minority in the way of Francis.

Annemarie (right) and friars in formation during a nonviolence workshop

During our formation we learned that to live as minority mean to resist positions of authority and hierarchal ways of relating to one another.

We also learned that in resisting power over others we are called to more mutual relationships.

This means that as a lay missioner from North America entering communities here in Cochabamba, humility and a readiness to learn from one another are essential to our shared work.

The second passage is from the “Engage Study Program Facilitation Guidelines” that have guided my ministry of facilitating nonviolence workshops in communities here in Cochabamba.

It serves as a helpful reminder that as a facilitator I am called to support the group, not dominate it. I am called to resist any temptation to speak as an authority in the process.

The connection that I see between these two passages is the Franciscan call to live as minority.

As I grow in my ministry of facilitation as a Franciscan, I have been deeply inspired by this call.

Concretely, living as minority has meant that when a participant in the workshop asks a question to me as a facilitator, I might choose not to answer it directly. Instead I might re-direct the question to the group. I might invite the whole group to respond and share answers from their own lived experience.

Whether or not I have a response to the question myself is not as important as the intention behind the simple act of inviting others to share.

By inviting other participants to respond to the question, I am acknowledging that my own experience is limited. And I am helping create a space in which each of our lived experiences is valued, mutually. I am choosing not to hold the power in the group but instead to share it, hoping I might empower others to share their experience and knowledge so that we might all learn from them together.

This method of facilitation, which I believe is deeply rooted in our Franciscan charism, has helped me embrace my own limited life experience as an invitation to humility. And this humility has helped me to listen closer to the experiences of the other participants and be more open to learning from them.

This has taught me that the call to live as minority and poverty as Franciscans is not a cliché call to self-sacrifice. Instead, I now believe that the call to minority is one to celebrate, because I have experienced first-hand the liberating power of drawing closer to one another with fewer pretenses and more availability to the collective process.

As we engage this nonviolent journey together I am grateful for all that my role as a facilitator, or “co-learner,” with these communities in Cochabamba is teaching me about having faith in this collective process that can be truly transformative.

From St. Paul, Minnesota, Annemarie graduated from Loyola University in Chicago in 2012 with a degree in Communication Studies. Possessing a strong interest in social justice issues and some experience with international travel, she began her service in Bolivia in January 2013.