By Bishop Nicholas Hudson
'Together for Life'. 'Ma'an lil-Hayat', 'Together for Life'. That is the name of the L'Arche community in Bethlehem. It is a name which captures the prophetic power of the movement that is L'Arche.
The L'Arche community in Bethlehem nestles close to the Church of the Nativity, built over the place of Jesus's birth.
I found myself leading a little delegation there last January on the last day of the Holy Land Coordination visit. The Holy Land Coordination is a group of Catholic bishops and laypeople who visit the Holy Land annually. They go at the request of the Holy See to give encouragement to the Christians who remain there. They go as well to deepen their understanding of how complex life is for Palestinians and Israelis, be they Christian, Jew or Moslem, for it is a life lived side by side and virtually on top of one another.
Planted in Bethlehem, 'Together for Life' is powerfully prophetic in two ways. The first is the radical choice it makes to be a mixed community of Christians and Moslems. One of its founding principles is that the 'Core People', those who have learning disabilities, should be made up of both Christians and Moslems; and the 'Assistants' too representing both faiths. ‘Yes, we can’, they seem to be saying. ‘Yes, we can live as Christian and Moslem together’, they are saying to the people of Palestine and Israel and indeed of the world, ‘if only we would try’.
The second way I find 'Ma'an lil-Hayat' to be prophetic is in the same way L'Arche has been prophetic across the globe for more than half a century: by giving a welcome to those whom society would otherwise reject and commit to asylums; by giving a life and a home to those who would otherwise be living out an aimless existence in anonymous and impersonal institutions. The name 'Together for Life' is powerful because it captures something that is key to L'Arche, that the person who has been welcomed may stay there for the rest of his or her life: if you are welcomed, it is for life.
When I discovered that L'Arche Bethlehem called itself 'Together for Life', my thoughts turned immediately to my young friend Laurent in Trosly, France, where Jean Vanier began L'Arche in 1964. Laurent does not have much speech but he likes to tell those in whom he chooses to confide, ‘L'amour c'est pour toujours! L'amour c'est pour toujours!’ ‘Love is forever!’ When he says this, he is saying something very important to him and to L'Arche: he is saying that he knows L'Arche can be his home forever. He is articulating the covenant which he knows has been set up between him and L'Arche.
'M'an lil-Hayat' is powerful because it announces this same covenant. In this land of the original Covenant, L'Arche Bethlehem is saying to the poor whom it has welcomed, ‘here you will be always welcome; Moslem or Christian, here you will always be welcome’, because love is forever! Such a witness seemed all the more prophetic as I saw it being lived out in the very the birthplace of the Messiah. Our little visit felt like one of the most powerful moments of the whole trip.