Walking together

Members from Quebec and francophone New Brunswick rallied around a common cause at their recent annual regional assembly.

By Philippe Lafortune, animator for Central and Southern Quebec

How can we work at the heart of our communities, in solidarity with our sisters and brothers around the world, to create a more just society that respects the rights and dignity of all? Such was the question of a landmark moment in the life of the Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada movement, that brought together members from Moncton to Montreal, Gatineau to Baie Comeau, and Sherbrooke to Chicoutimi.

People at the heart of the movement

Organized by, with and for members of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada, this new version of the annual regional assembly enabled 68 francophone delegates to gather, network, celebrate, organize and recharge their batteries over a 40-hour period at Notre-Dame-de-Foy College, in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, near Quebec City.

Chaired by assembly veteran Françoise Lagacé, the opening evening set the tone and left a lasting impression. With governance issues like diocesan councils’ proposals and national council elections now reserved for the annual general meeting (scheduled January 20), this regional assembly focused on member training.

The 2023 regional assembly welcomed four new members, including the young president of the new Valleyfield diocesan council and representatives from the Diocese of Saint-Jean-Longueuil and the Development and Peace group from Laval University.

Given the Church’s ongoing focus on synodality, which means “walking together,” it was apt that Walking Together was the theme of the 2023 regional assembly.  Walking to move forward cheerfully, to meet others and to reach out to them. Together, because we can only advance on the long road to development with:

  • Our 12,000+ committed members, the hearts of their own communities from coast to coast
  • The 123 partners we support in their mission to help vulnerable people
  • The action networks to which we belong, such as AQOCI, Caritas Internationalis and CIDSE
  • Every one of our sisters and brothers, kind-hearted people of good will from near and far

Synodality, then, is at once a movement of the heart and a movement of the masses, where everyone has a place and responsibility and can invest their respective gifts in serving their neighbours in need. To facilitate this , both year-round and throughout the assembly, seven key qualities were identified by members: sharing, transparency, participation, discernment, decision-making, co-responsibility and communication.

Stand for the Land

In her opening lecture on Saturday, programs officer Anne Catherine Kennedy outlined some of the challenges and successes in the field of development and peace. Having recently returned from a mission with our Colombian partner, the Asociación Campesina de Antioquia (Antioquia Peasants’ Association), she illustrated how members’ mobilization in the Global North feeds community mobilization in the Global South, and vice versa.

Next, our youth programs officer Selina Hunt led a workshop on intergenerational mobilization, with Brenda Arakaza, our young and dynamic national council president, attending virtually. The session prompted members to reflect on the source and meaning of their commitment. Why and how should we act? Together, of course, because that is how to go further.

On the advocacy front, another key pillar of mobilization at the regional assembly was the virtual nationwide launch, of the Stand for the Land campaign, with Elvin Hernández, joining in live from Honduras. On the agenda: the case of the Guapinol and San Pedro communities, which illustrates the ecological and socio-political violence of the extractive industry.

As a human rights investigator for our Honduran partner ERIC-Radio Progreso (see website in Spanish), Hernández has been working for over 20 years to defend lives and lands. Thanks in part to support from Quebec’s Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie, he will be visiting Canada from October 13 to 24 to speak about this work.

Richard Pommainville’s workshop then led the audience in taking a fresh look at the history of the world and of our movement; at humanitarian aid and the development of peoples; at the transition from an approach driven by charity alone to a model based on true justice; and at the principles of Catholic Social Teaching that underpin our work and, thereby, real change.

The next workshop, skilfully orchestrated by Claudia Lolot with the support of experienced members, was just as instructive and interactive. It helped participants learn how to make the working of diocesan councils pleasant and effective. It highlighted the key role of the presidency, the complementary role of members, the usefulness of the structures and, above all, the need for flexibility to better adapt to contexts and circumstances.

At the end of a busy day, members gathered for a heartfelt celebration hosted by our Daniel and Christiane  from the Diocese of Saint-Jean-Longueuil. Gathered in a circle around images of communities and people we support, participants reflected on their commitment, in the face of the many challenges of our time, to move forward, hope, stand firm.

Creativity for a cause

The assembly discussed the arts, and talents more broadly, as inexhaustible (re)sources for exploring creativity, expressing identity, exposing truths and, above all, proposing solutions based on solidarity. In this sense, most people will appreciate participating in a movement that involves sharing not only their time or money, but also their talents and interests.

From knitting, cooking and sewing workshops to movie mornings, lunchtime talks and reading evenings; from stamp and cheese sales to benefit concerts and exhibitions (see article in French), there are many opportunities to bring our communities together for a common cause. The idea is to adapt activities to our creativity and to the colors of the communities in which they are deployed.

Between the fall advocacy campaign and the spring Share Lent campaign, members identified other key moments in the year when they are called upon to organize. While it is always opportune to reach out; network within our communities; share our mission and our partners’ work; recruit new members; or collect funds and signatures, the choice of time and manner can make all the difference between just commendable results and total success.

These courses of action can be used to raise awareness, educate, mobilize, recruit and fundraise. And, as the intergenerational workshop aptly illustrated, people are more likely to share their time, talents and money if they are touched by a story, like the ones of our partners that are voiced by our members.

A movement on the move

The assembly was also an occasion to reiterate the credo―what we believe in and commit to―that had been articulated at last year’s orientation assembly . We said that we believe in the sanctity of life, that we are one human family and that we share a common Home. This calls us to put our faith into practice and to move from words to action to build a more just and humane world. In short, to get moving, together.

Concluding with inspiring words from Wind, Sand and Stars, the memoir of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the mistress of ceremonies reminded the gathering that, “To be a [hu]man is, precisely, to be responsible. […] It is to feel, when setting one’s stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world.” This calls us to acknowledge our responsibility, to walk together, to recognize human dignity in all its diversity, and to care for all of Creation.

All this provided much food for thought as delegates retuned to their respective communities, and as regional assemblies from Newfoundland to British Columbia drew to a close. It called us to commit ourselves boldly and courageously, to denounce unjust social structures, to proclaim a possible new world, to celebrate our achievements and to be bearers of hope.

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