A precious and revealing history

Address by Father Joseph Wresinski at the Seminar “Extreme Poverty and Exclusion in Africa”, Pierrelaye, France, 19 May 1981.

Dear friends,

You accepted our invitation to be here with us, so how could we not call you friends? You have shown friendship by accepting our invitation and trusting that we are serious in wanting to create ties of friendship and solidarity with you. For that we are grateful.

We are even more grateful because many of you responded spontaneously, from your hearts, sensing perhaps that we would try never to disappoint those who extend to us the hand of friendship. Although you sensed this, you could not yet know it, for you hadn’t yet experienced it. You didn’t really know us yet. Your coming here confirms something said by Mr. Hampaté Bà, your teacher, who has also become ours: “When trust is given spontaneously, there can only be trust in response.”

Now that you are here to get to know us better, I would like, as a way of welcoming you, to say some things about what we are, what we try to be, in the ATD Fourth World Movement. That will take you beyond simple trust and enable you to know us and judge us. But how shall I tell you about us?

Not long ago, Mr. Hampaté Bà, in welcoming a member of our volunteer corps to his home in Abidjan, said, “One way of welcoming a guest is to kill a calf. But you can also do it by sharing with the guest a part of your own history, of the course your life has taken.” And it is true that the history of our movement is our most precious possession — the most precious and the most private as well, because it is not our history, but the history of the poorest of our fellow citizens. They confided their history, all that they knew and carried on their shoulders; and they have allowed us to take part in it with them. In reconstituting their history with us, they have given us a double gift:

  • they have allowed us to change our hearts and our personalities, to become different from what we were before;

  • they have shared not only the humiliation and suffering of their history but also its immeasurable hope. For as suffering increases, so does hope.

So the history of our movement, mixed as it is with that of the most excluded families — those who still know hunger, premature death, and ignorance even in the richest countries — is the most precious thing we can offer you as a welcome. (…)

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