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Paz y Bien: The Importance of Community


In concluding this Paz y Bien blog series, I have taken time to consider what element is the most essential to these nonviolence workshops that we have been engaging here in Cochabamba. What makes these experiences sacred? What about these workshops lays the foundation for personal and social transformation?

My experience has led me to believe that one answer to these questions is community.

Both the Christian Base Communities and the Franciscan friars with whom we have offered these nonviolence workshops are groups where community had already been established.

The friars live together, share meals together, pray together. They are part of a fraternity.

The Christian Base Communities, organized often by location, not only live near one another but also meet weekly to pray together.

Annemarie and the Christian Base Community that has welcomed her in

In many ways, these communities are like family to one another.

But even amongst family there is always room for growth and transformation. We can spend time amongst family without authentically sharing ourselves with one another, for a variety of reasons.

We have seen this in the workshops time and time again. We have seen what a challenge it is to recognize conflict in our own lives, much less share that reality with others. We have seen the struggle to recognize the violence in those conflicts, be it verbal, emotional, or physical. We have seen that it can be a painful process to recognize our part in the violence, how we have suffered or how we have hurt others.

It is not an easy process but engaging it in community, where one feels safe and accepted as they are, can make all the difference.

It is in those safe spaces, which we often have to create and sustain because they do not accidentally occur, that personal and social transformation can take root.

We seek to create these safe spaces by devoting time to building confianza or trust within the group. Although these communities are like family to one another, each of us is still human, still aware of our vulnerability and the time and great care it can take to share ourselves authentically with one another.

So we do not cut corners and we try not to rush. We take time to hear each person’s voice as we begin the workshop. We might ask them to share the origin of their name. We might ask them to light a candle, a symbol of their sacred presence in our shared space.

Nonviolence workshop for the Franciscan friars in formation

We take care to create acuerdos grupales or group agreements that empower each of us to sustain the safe space we hope to share during our time together. These agreements often include such simple acts as listening, really listening and not interrupting when someone else is speaking. A task much easier said and promoted than lived in practice.

But we take these steps as starting points, as worth our time because they are fundamental to our strength as a community and our potential for transformation. And we revisit them whenever necessary so as to stay mindful of what we need to sustain our safe space.

As those at Pace e Bene have taught me, the sacredness of these workshops is discovered in making contact with our woundedness. Each of us is affected by violence, each of us, and when we are able to come in contact with that woundedness we awaken to our shared humanity.

We also awaken to our potential for transformation.

In hearing other people’s stories we often gain the courage to share our own. In sharing our own stories we often awaken to our truth informed by our own experiences. In awakening to our own truth, well, we might discover that anything is possible.

And it is the confianza within the community that sustains us throughout this journey.

As we start to recognize the forms violence takes in our lives, verbal, emotional, physical, cultural, structural (the list could go on), our community encourages us and reminds us that we are not alone.

As we try out nonviolent alternatives both in the workshops and in our everyday reality, our community is there to hear and honor the challenges and triumphs we have faced.

And as we move, with our woundedness, towards realizing our potential as agents of nonviolent social change, our community is there to move with us.

These nonviolence workshops have invited me to look closer at my own experiences of community. How am I learning to grow in trust of my community? How are we supporting one another in the midst of challenges and growth? How are we celebrating and encouraging our experiences of transformation?

In the midst of the great challenges of our day, the isolation and emptiness that feeds violence, it is the witness of Franciscan fraternity and nonviolence alive in these communities in Cochabamba that gives me even greater hope.

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.