Editor’s Note: Missioner Hannah Hagarty, serving in Kingston, Jamaica, reflects on the the various meanings of “accompaniment” and how her own understanding of the word has grown during her time in mission.

Accompaniment is the reason I was drawn to FMS. When choosing which organization to serve abroad with, I came across FMS and read their core statements. This one drew me in. “We engage in a mission of presence, accompaniment, and advocacy.” After reading this, I knew I wanted to be involved with this organization.  When I moved into the Casa San Salvador in Washington DC, I found my people. I finally had a name for how I live my life and my identity: I am a Franciscan.  

According to the dictionary, the definition of accompaniment is…

“…an addition intended to give completeness or symmetry to something. A companion.”

This is my definition:

“Living alongside those I meet and listening lovingly; affirming; being present and genuinely caring. A companion.”

During Advent, I like to envision the environment into which Jesus was brought when he came into this world. Who and what was accompanying and being companions for the Holy family? Angels, shepherds, and even the animals sharing the stable. Did the Innkeeper accompany Mary and Joseph by offering the stable? Or was that neglect? I wonder: if I was the innkeeper and Mary and Joseph came to me looking for a place to stay, how would I accompany them?  Who has come to me for rest and refuge? How have I learned to accompany and walk alongside the people in my life?

Every day on mission brings a new opportunity to accompany, or be a companion to an individual or group of people. In my last two years, I have accompanied an internationally renowned violinist to a private party at the Russian embassy. I have accompanied my coworkers at school as we try to navigate teaching virtually when several of us don’t have internet in our homes or understand technology well enough to be independently comfortable. I have accompanied a 16-year-old boy whose social worker told him extremely devastating news, leading him to question his value and why he should continue to live. I have accompanied little children living in homes of the state who just want physical touch and love.  I have accompanied all of my 190 students virtually as we try to process what is going on in this world and how it makes us feel.  I have accompanied my co-missioner as we try to navigate living in Jamaica during this COVID time. I have accompanied the Sisters of Immaculate as we eat meals, attend mass, and spend time in fellowship. I accompany my friends and family as they go through their individual struggles that come with living during this pandemic.

At the end of my three-month Formation training in preparation for living in Jamaica, I composed this personal mission statement for my time on mission: 

To live each day with authenticity, compassion, and peace as I encounter those who are living on the margins of society, and accompany them on their life journey. I will do this by allowing my heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of God. I will recognize the dignity of others by entering into relationships and allowing others to see the dignity in me. By committing to being present and genuinely listening. By living in solidarity. By seeking to console those who are troubled, seeking to understand those who are oppressed, and seeking to love my neighbor as myself.

I knew I wanted to accompany the people of Jamaica before I even got here, and  I can honestly say that every part of my mission statement has proven true since I have been on mission. It has been the hardest, yet most fulfilling thing I have ever been through. My heart has been broken. I have seen the dignity of others in relationships. I have spent my time here in accompaniment of others, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My prayer for you this Advent season is that you are able to pay attention to those around you who are in need of accompaniment, even if it is yourself. Reach out, listen, be present, and love. Be a companion.

Reflection question: How might you be called to embrace a spirit of accompaniment and allow your heart “to be broken by the things that break the heart of God”?