L’Arche's International Federation Assembly concluded this week, after seven days of gatherings in which close to 600 people with and without learning disabilities from 37 countries got together to celebrate their differences and embrace each other.
The global meeting was attended by members of 139 L'Arche communities in all continents, speaking at least 17 different languages, from all faiths and none.
"This is one of the few large scale events in which people with learning disabilities come as equal partners with other members of society. It also represents a sign of hope to the world, since it shows that it is possible to live in community without denying differences, but rather embracing them", Mairead Boland-Brabazon, CEO at L’Arche Ireland and Northern Ireland says.
Across the world L’Arche fosters residential communities, work projects and friendships that create places of belonging for some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. These spaces enable each person to live as a full citizen and to contribute their unique gifts to society.
“Our message in L’Arche has become even more important nowadays, when as humans we are facing one of the most important questions of all: what kind of societies do we want in the future? Do we want to live in a world where only some people have the right to exist and succeed, while others should be excluded due to their background, faith, colour or level of abilities? Or should we all get together to foster a more human society where everyone belongs and is given their rightful place? L’Arche stands for the latter”, Mairead explains.
Attendants had the opportunity to exchange experiences in several workshops and conferences. The event was opened by Councillor Nuala McAllister, Lord Mayor of Belfast, and included speakers such as Rev. Dr. Ruth Patterson OBE, Director of Restoration Ministries; Pádraig Ó Tuama, Leader of the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland, and Michael McDonald, filmmaker. There was also a market where attendants got to see what crafts other L’Arche members around the world do. "We go back to our communities full of ideas and inspiration, and recharged with new energy for what lies ahead", Mairead affirms.
During the assembly, new international leaders were chosen and new goals for L’Arche were established. “Our three main objectives for the future are very punctual: to go deep, to go out and to go within. These three goals are as applicable to our individual lives as they are to our organization. To go deep means to keep ourselves in touch with our own spiritually and what makes us unique. To go out is an invitation to share our unique gifts with others. To go within encourages us to walk together in community, trusting and taking care of one another. We have been requested to continue with our mission by stepping out of our comfort zone to help build a more human world”, Mairead finishes.