Is L’Arche a community or a federation of communities? What exactly is a community? There are as many answers to that question as there are individuals and cultures.
For most Western Europeans, the word ‘community’ refers first to a religious way of life. Then, the word brings to mind minority groups such as the Jewish or gay community. In Anglo-Saxon countries, the word ‘community’ covers a much broader reality. It could refer to an urban, professional, family or national community, anything that implies membership. In Japan, the emphasis is on membership, as seen in the letter from Japan by Ludo Ibaragi, Masako Isobe and Yasuhiro Hattori.
In a society that is becoming increasingly individualistic, the word community might evoke the fear of being judged and rejected if one is different. On the other hand, there is a Masai proverb that says “I exist because we all exist; therefore, since we exist, then I exist”. That is one vision of community in East Africa that you can learn about by reading Paul Kariuiki’s article.
Despite the fact that there are so many different views of community, one aspect always stands out: the importance of relationships. This is evident in all the articles in this issue, and is brought to the foreground especially in the discussions of Robert Larouche and Pedro Toussain.
I personally have lived in different communities. First for a few years in L’Arche Brussels, Belgium, then one year in Cork, Ireland, and a few years in Kampala, Uganda. Despite these changes, one element has remained the same for me, and that is the quality of the enduring bonds and relationships. Whether I was living in Cork or Kampala, I always felt that I was still a member of L’Arche Brussels. This multiple membership is experienced mostly on an emotional level with core members, assistants and friends of the community.
This year, the International Reflection Group met for eight days to discuss the issue of community. At the end of the work session, the group was surprised to realize that it had become a community! Its experience, which you will find in this issue, was the inspiration for the title of this issue: Community is a tapestry of relationships.
Today, legal requirements risk getting over shadowing the challenge of being the community. There is a danger of becoming a soulless institution. Jean Vanier reminds us that the best rules are those that operate in the name of love.
Love is essential, but where would we be without humour? Would we still be a community? In the centre pages you will find comic strips that Floris, a former L’Arche assistant has done. That section is the result of collaborative Federation-wide brainstorming over the Internet, such a valuable tool to our contemporary community. Virtual networks are they also communities?