Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Fr. Manfred
Â This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” –
reflections from participants of the Zen Peacemakers
Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.
BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS
Manfred Deselaers, Germany/Poland
(In photo, first on left)
I live in OĆwiÄcim since 1990, in the Catholic Community Mariae Himmelfahrt, and sinceÂ 1995 I work as a minister for the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer (CDiM). From theÂ beginning on I was aware of the [Zen] Peacemaker Retreats, from a big distance at first. In theÂ nineties, I heard from priest Piotr Wrona, director of the CDiM at that time, that anÂ American international Buddhist inter-religious group with Jewish roots (or something likeÂ that, I donât remember exactly) was planning and conducting contemplative days inÂ Auschwitz. I had no idea what that meant. Then coincidental meetings happened,Â conversations in between, invitations and then, eventually, at some point the request toÂ take over the role of a Christian Spirit Holder.Â Later I often said that for me, the Peacemaker Retreats belong to the mostÂ important events in Auschwitz and Birkenau. Why?
There are few groups, which listen so intensively to âthe voice of this groundâ.Â Sightseeing – yes, of course. Meetings with contemporary witnesses, too. But sitting inÂ silence on the tracks, from time to time chanting the names of those who were murderedâŠÂ feeling the space while meditating, becoming aware of the many different dimensions inÂ different spots of the camp siteâŠ this is such an intense offering to take this place and itsÂ victims (and even its offenders) seriously that even former inmates came back to participate.
I also learned a lot from the method of Silent Sharing. Mornings in small groups,Â evenings in bigger groups. Itâs not the lectures that account for the atmosphere, itâs theÂ respectful listening to the inner wealth everyone brings in.Â âAuschwitzâ â that was the annihilation of others. Nearly none of all the groupsÂ coming to Auschwitz these days is bringing together different nations, biographies, faithsÂ and religions so intentionally. The healing of broken identities and broken relationshipsÂ belongs together, there is no other way, Iâm convinced of that. New trust comes fromÂ honest listening to each other. For that, it needs a safe space, allowing for trust. That isÂ what this retreat offers.
Iâm a Catholic priest, not a Jew, not a Buddhist. This means, I am under noÂ obligation to engage in liturgies that I donât understand or canât relate to. And that goes forÂ other people too. Thatâs why for me the respect towards the other-ness of the others wasÂ always very important. It was expressed, for example, in the separate prayers for theÂ different religious groups that were part of the retreat program, even when almostÂ everything else is offered collectively. Anyone could visit âthe othersâ, but also find a groupÂ with a familiar prayer-language. Sometimes, collective prayers or prayer-paths would form,Â in which we would express ourselves in our traditions successively. (âŠ)
I have encountered so many beautiful people. My gratitude reaches out to all ofÂ them, especially to the founding parents and the pillars that make up the spine of theseÂ retreats from the very beginning, Bernie and his âfamilyâ. The retreat is not only âBearingÂ Witnessâ â itâs also Building a Civilization of Love…
This excerpt from Fr. Manfred’sÂ reflection appears in fullÂ in the book
“AschePerlen – Pearls of Ash & Awe. 20 Years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman & Zen Peacemakers” (2015)Â Edited by Kathleen Battke, Ginni Stern, and Andrzej Krajewski,Â in German and English. Printed copies or e-book available at: https://janando.de/steinrich/en
November 21, 2019