Reflecting with Jean Vanier on terrorism 3 years after the Charlie Hebdo massacre

Today marks the third anniversary of the date two jihadists murdered 12 people in the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

Just days after the 2016 terrorist attacks in Brussels, I travelled to Trosly-Breuil, France where Jean Vanier was delivering a Holy Week retreat on the theme “The Agony of Jesus.” Surely the terrorist attacks were on everyone’s minds, and I wondered if Jean would mention them.

These were his opening words for that retreat:

I’m very glad to give you this retreat, a retreat that accompanies Jesus. It’s difficult to penetrate into the Passion and I feel myself very poor in the ability to enter into the theme of suffering after the recent events in Brussels. We are before the drama of terrorism, with all its tragic elements. We are disciples of God facing the suffering of the world and of ourselves. What is your responsibility in this fragile world today? What is your call? What is Jesus asking of you? How do we situate ourselves? Before all the questions of life and the world? We find a Jesus who is crying, who is terribly human. This retreat about the agony of Jesus is also about the agony of the world. We ponder that the all-powerful God became powerless. Here is a place of welcome for those in agony. L’Arche is a place of encounter, of openness, and of silence. Silence has no sense if it is not a listening — listening to that which is most intimate inside myself. What does God want? What does He say? God chose the weak and the foolish to confound the intellectual and the powerful. What does God ask me in the reality where I am?

On another occasion, I recall Jean encouraging us to think of the man with a young son whose wife was killed in the Bataclan attack. Vanier admires the response of Antoine Leiris who promptly took to Facebook to address the terrorists saying that he refused to give them his hatred and vengeance. And in this YouTube clip he resolved, “I won’t give you the gift of hating you.”

On this third anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, trying in some way to honour the memory of the victims of these horrible attacks, I find myself returning to Vanier’s words  and exemplars.


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