Profiles of Hope – Chrissie Wellington

Chrissie Wellington I’ve mentioned Chrissie Wellington on this blog before, but I think she deserves a mention in my ‘Profiles of Hope’ series.  Chrissie is one of the outstanding athletes of our generation, comparable in her field of Ironman triathlon to Lance Armstrong in cycling or Michael Schumacher in motor racing.

She has won the Ironman world championship four times, so far, and in fact has won every single iron-distance race she has ever entered.  This fall her win in Kona came just two weeks after a serious bike crash that left her with major road rash and a torn pectoral muscle.

But Chrissie inspires me for more than just her athletic ability and determination.  She spent several years working in international development before becoming a professional athlete, and even since turning pro she has frequently used her fame to draw attention to the under-privileged and those caught up in conflict.

“It is my passion, and has been for a long time. Poverty, conflict, violence, crime, exclusion and so forth are not givens. They happen for a reason. We have the power to change things. And sport is one vehicle for doing so. It has the power to build bridges, to empower, to teach, to heal – this is what triathlon and every other sport should be about. I hope that I – together with the rest of TeamTBB – can, in a small way, help to inspire people to take up sport, realise their own dreams and their full potential.

– Chrissie Wellington,

Profiles of Hope – Sebastian Castellio

John Calvin may have disagreed with nearly every aspect of Catholic faith and practice, but there is one area that he and the Inquisition stood in total agreement on.

Heretics should be executed.

Michael Servetus was a 16th century scientist and theologian who had the dubious distinction of being condemned as a heretic by both the Catholic and the Protestant authorities.  He was arrested by the Catholic Inquisition in France,  and sentenced to death.  Although he managed to escape, he made the mistake of then travelling to Geneva, where he was promptly arrested again, this time by the Protestant authorities, under the leadership of Calvin.

Although Calvin had split with the Catholic church many years previously, and had denounced the Pope as the Antichrist, he was in complete agreement with it that heresy should be punished with banishment, torture or death.  Michael Servetus was burned at the stake on October 27th, 1553.

In contrast to both Catholic and Protestant leaders who believed that religious truth must be promoted by the full force of the state, one man stood out as a voice of reason, compassion, and freedom of conscience.

Sebastian Castellio.

In his own words, “To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man.

At great personal risk to himself, Castellio argued strongly and publically against the persecution of ‘heretics’.  To him, a heretic was anyone who disagrees with another on a religious matter.  Given the differences of opinion between religious authorities, everyone is a heretic by someone’s definition.

We might take freedom of religious conscience for granted these days.  Unlike the tumultuous 16th century,  I can live in peace with my Catholic friend or my Muslim neighbour or my atheist colleague. But the ideals that make it possible for our diverse Canadian society to flourish in many ways can trace themselves back to the pioneering teaching of Castellio.

As he said,  “We can live together peacefully only when we control our intolerance. Even though there will always be differences of opinion from time to time, we can at any rate come to general understandings, can love one another, and can enter the bonds of peace.”

Profiles of Hope – Rupert Ross

The first person I profiled in this series was a Christian monk.  The next person I want to talk about, strangely enough, is a criminal prosecutor.

His name is Rupert Ross.

During his work with Justice Canada, Ross examined and experienced the Aboriginal approach to ‘peacemaker’ justice.  In contrast with a justice system that focuses simply on identifying and punishing criminals,  this is an approach that addresses the full set of connections between the perpetrator of a crime, the victim, and the wider community that they find themselves in.

In his book ‘Returning to the Teachings‘, Ross describes a Native American approach to restorative justice called a Healing Circle.  This is a tool that gives a voice to everyone affected by the crime – the victim, the victim’s family, the offender and their family, and community representatives.

The ultimate goal is not merely punishment, but to break the cycle of crime, in part by bringing the offender to a point of recognition and accountability for the effect their actions have had.

Just as Brother Roger devoted his life to reconciliation between different branches of the church, practitioners of restorative justice such as Rupert Ross are dedicated to bringing reconciliation and healing to broken individuals and communities.


Profiles of Hope – Brother Roger of Taize

I’m starting a new series here, called “Profiles of Hope”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of hope.  It’s one of my key values.  And yet I find that hope can be a very esoteric concept.  It’s not something I find easy to define.

With that in mind, I’m going to start writing about some people who’s lives have inspired me.  People who have acted as if it is possible to make a difference in this world.  People who have used what they have to affect the situation they found themselves in for the better.  People who have creatively imagined a better way of living.

I’ll start with the fellow on the right, Brother Roger.

You can’t spend a long time in the Christian world without noticing that sometimes we don’t get on all that well with each other.  Since the Great Schism the Orthodox and Catholics haven’t exactly been on speaking terms, and since the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics have been refusing to play nicely together.

We are forbidden by our leaders from sharing communion together, and have been for hundreds of years.

Except for one man.  Brother Roger, above.  He founded the Taize community in France, and spent his life working towards Christian reconciliation.  His work was so impressive, that despite being a Protestant he received Catholic communion from two Popes.

Every year Taize hosts thousands of young people who want to reach across cultural and denominational boundaries, and many thousands more have been blessed by the music and simple liturgical style that the community inspired.   In the words of the current leader, Brother Alois:

“In Christ we belong to one another. When Christians are separated, the message of the Gospel becomes inaudible.

How can we respond to the new challenges of our societies, notably that of secularization and of mutual understanding between cultures, unless we bring together the gifts of the Holy Spirit placed in all the Christian families? How can we communicate Christ’s peace to all if we remain separated?”

The need for reconciliation is becoming clearer to me as I travel around the Barrie churches, and I can think of no one who embodies this ideal better than Brother Roger.

“Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.”