In our attempt to create new forms of solidarity and open up ways of trust, there are, and there always will be, trials. At times they may seem to be overwhelming. So what then should we do? Is not our response to personal trials, and to those which other people endure, to love still more? (Brother Alois, Letter 2012 – Towards a New Solidarity.)
I think it’s important to be aware of your surrounding and the people you meet there. Just try to be open and friendly and take the first step if necessary. The beginning of a conversation is often the only challenge you have to overcome and then you will see how the other person reacts and begin a personal contact. When somebody you’ve never seen before talks to you, you probably would be glad that somebody is interested in you and wants to spend time with you. I should think about this when I wonder whether I should speak to the person next to me in the bus or in the queue.
The words of Brother Alois during the last prayer in Berlin and a collection of interviews with Coline Serrault, “Local Solutions for Global Disorder,” made me stop and think, especially about the environment. I undertook one concrete action: I went to see my neighbor, a retiree who tends a large garden and produces too much for him and his wife. He is now very proud to share his harvest with us, and for our part we profit from good local vegetables, by means of barter. We talked about this to our team in the “Christians in the Rural World” movement, and the result was a project to start a blog identifying local producers—official this time—of vegetables, meat or fruit, because we realized they were numerous in the surrounding villages, but not necessarily known.
The following two texts come from a workshop held in Taizé last summer with the title: "Sharing experiences of solidarity with those around us"
I grew up in a village in Romania with a very simple life. I learned a lot about trust and sharing. For example our doors and gates are always open and our neighbors can come into our house as if it were theirs; if they want to borrow some salt or oil and we are not there, they can take whatever they want. It is a matter of trust, help and sharing. At the same time there is a wider cooperation—when we need help with something, for example with farming, they come and help us. In this way we finish very fast and next day we go and help them. I believe this is solidarity: trust, cooperation, love and being there for others. I had the privilege of growing up in this village, this community, and I’m grateful because I’ve learned and developed these values, values that simple and humble people have.
It is true that God wants us to honor our parents, and we can translate this into values such as loyalty, respect and, above all, love. Parents want the best for their children. But sometimes, as children grow, some parents try to convince their children to follow the path of life they have chosen themselves, or they wanted to follow. Sometimes it is very hard for some parents to accept that their children want to take another route. However, if they do not trust the decisions made by their children, parents might stop them in the pursuit of their dreams. A good family solidarity means to me that parents have confidence in their children’s life-choices.
The following story was shared during a workshop in Taizé last August with someone in charge of the world fund for the struggle against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Our school has set up a project to educate young people about AIDS, and through it we were able to meet people with the disease. After the first meeting, we realized that social exclusion can be worse than the disease itself. A man told us that when he learned he was infected, he told his family and friends, and some stopped talking to him. His boss fired him, fearing he would contaminate his co-workers. His mother did not even want to eat the same food as him. Because of this unfounded discrimination he began to tell his story openly in order to show that despite his illness, he remains normal. Indeed, living alongside a person with AIDS is not at all dangerous; social exclusion is only due to a lack of knowledge.
When I was 15, I took part in a humanitarian trip to Peru. With a youth group, we built a home for a mother and her daughter in the slums. The action was called humanitarian and one can easily challenge the one-way direction of the aid. However, this trip showed me otherwise. In fact, I seem to have received more than I gave. In the end, the humanitarian act turned into solidarity; French and Peruvians built the home together. In this way we all got to know one another through mutual aid, sharing and a common goal. The trip had a profound impact in my teenage years; it forged my character and personality. I think solidarity is first and foremost an act of tolerance and apprenticeship.