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Chris in the Philippines

Chris receives a unique welcome in L'Arche

L'Arche defines itself as a place where each person is welcomed as she or he is, with his or her own history, gifts, culture, traditions and religion. In spite of our differences and the challenges these carry, the search for unity is at the heart of what we do and how we live our life together in community. L'Arche brings together people who have various forms of disabilities to live together, to build friendships and to give a chance to those in society where others may not be so willing to accept or help. Each l'Arche community is different and has its own different ways of doing things, but here in Bayanihan, Cainta, it is about helping each member to be as independent as possible. We have members who have cerebral palsy (one of whom is in a wheelchair and needs 24/7 assistance), autism, downs syndrome etc all of whom were abandoned or orphaned as a child, and through this community they have been given the opportunity to form friendships, to travel to other countries, to aspire and work for a future they dream about, but most importantly to experience the sharing of love with others.

When I arrived at l'Arche and walked through the gate I was greeted by a group of very enthusiastic people who were all very excited for my arrival and it is fair to say that was the first moment when I doubted myself and whether I could actually offer anything of any value. It was very overwhelming, in an amazing way, but it was also the first hit of reality because I am nothing special, and I have no expertise in any particular area. I worried that they had these expectations that I could not meet. But the reason I titled this, and a video I made for my AMA presentation here, A Journey of Love and Friendship, is due to how quickly you realise that it is you that they are excited about, not what you can bring, not your expertise, not your intellect, wisdom (or lack thereof!), not what you look like, nor about your money or any other material possessions but you, and just you. They care about the person you are and they strip away all of the things that we may define ourselves by to just look into our heart to reveal the true person we are.

The truth is I realise now how stupid I was to be worried, I have learnt so much more than I can possibly give, the value of looking beyond and into a person, and just being grateful for all the small things but above all else not to worry about what I can bring, or what I can offer because by just bringing ourselves with an open heart we are already giving more than what is required.The community as a whole, but in particular John Paul with his unending confidence and continuous smile to all in the world, has shown me how much better a world we could live in if we all just gave a little more love to each other. The reality is I have learnt here that when you start to give love, you receive so much more back and you realise just how irrelevant your definitions that we use to define ourselves and each other are. This journey has confirmed one of my core beliefs that difference should be celebrated as we can always learn so much from each other if we just have an open heart and are willing to love.