As you all know, I am deeply involved with accompaniment in Colombia. What you may not realize is that accompaniment is something that has been dear to my heart for many years now, and it has deeper and broader meaning than the specific example we are all familiar with from our work in Colombia.
When I lived in Uruguay, one of the things that stood out to me most about the culture is the way people regularly offer to accompany one another in all the tasks of everyday life. If I had an errand to run or a visit to pay, my host sister would say, “Te acompaño.” I’ll go with you. It was just an everyday way of doing things, a natural and genuine impulse.
This simple feature of life and relationships in rural Uruguay quickly became second nature to me, but it has been somewhat difficult for me to keep it as a part of my life here in the states. Here we value our independence and we like to imagine we have things under control. We value efficiency: why send two when one can do the job? The idea that someone would want to come along with us just for the sake of being with us is sometimes unsettling, but I think we need to keep at it.
The best way for me to learn about you and your experience is to walk beside you and share in that experience. If I walk by your side, we will have chances to talk and share stories with one another. Or sometimes we may simply walk in silence, but I will have seen and heard and smelt things along the road.
Accompaniment is an important model for the life of the Church. It can be practiced within our congregations, in our families, and across the globe, this way of coming together and learning about each other’s lives and experiences. When we walk together, we are not divided into leaders and followers, helpers and people in need. We do not seek to change the one with whom we walk, we simply walk alongside her and share in her experience of the world.
We walk together because it is not good for us to be alone. When we walk with each other, we get a taste of one another’s lives, and we begin to appreciate and understand one another. I wonder if we can’t learn even more by walking a mile at someone’s side than by walking a mile in her shoes.
As far as I can tell, the deepest benefit that comes from our accompaniment program in Colombia is the very real solidarity that is made present in our relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not to discount the protective aspect of our presence, which is certainly important. But the transformation of lives comes, I think, from the way in which we embody our unity by journeying together. The distances between us are not enough to separate us, for we are one in the love of Christ. We, though many, and very diverse, are one body. When one member suffers, all suffer together with it, and when one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
This is why I think accompaniment should be something we do in every part of church life, in our families and local communities as well as around the world. Accompaniment is about taking the time to walk together, to share the journey. Accompaniment isn’t just about going to the church in Colombia or elsewhere in time of crisis, it’s about living out the reality that we are one body. It is good for us to walk together and get to know one another in a tangible way.