Accompaniment & Solidarity in the Midst of Pandemia & Physical Distancing

April 2, 2021

Dear Friends,

One year ago, I wrote to you just as the potential impacts of the Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic was becoming clear. After a traumatic year of physical distancing, social isolation, economic dislocation, racial reckoning, and heightened climate change, it’s hard to believe Passover, Holi, Lailat Ul Bara’h, and Easter are here. While different in history & purpose: they each provide an important opportunity for reflection & renewal—especially after a year like this! 

While I have been blessed by the ability to work from home, extended time with my spouse and younger children, and a National Park next door, I miss being in the presence of each of you. Facebook, Zoom, WhatsApp, and the rest can be wonderful vehicles for staying socially connected & getting work done, but nothing can replace the transformative nature of physical presence.

Physical proximity is at the heart of accompaniment. Accompaniment, perhaps the preeminent posture of IPM, encourages solidarity & nurtures trust. One can claim they are working to decolonize & end structural racism, but before COVID it seemed almost impossible to do so from a distance.  Actual physical presence was how, for almost five decades, IPM built connections & worked across borders of culture, faith, and economic circumstance.  

In re-reading Isabel Wilkerson’s latest book Caste, in preparation for an upcoming Virtual Immersion Experience with John Carroll University, I’ve been struck by how person-to-person connection allows us to traverse caste and the related “discontents” Wilkerson brilliantly identifies. My personal & professional life may encourage cross-caste relationships, but I’m painfully aware how divided & distant so many of us remain from one another. Enforced physical distancing may not have made that any easier but it has forced us to imagine & create new ways of being & working together.

IPM was founded to transcend difference no matter the distance between us. We preface our partnerships as a two-way-street. We pride ourselves on our hard-fought indigenization & inclusivity as “proof” that we are on the right path. A Zoom screen or WhatsApp group with folks from five continents reminds us that, yes, we may walk the same path together in ways hitherto unimagined. 

This week’s holy days remind us as well that accompaniment is at the heart of our respective spiritual traditions. From Holi’s celebration of diversity to Lailat Ul Barah’s search for reconciliation. From Passover’s commemoration of a peoples’ liberation to a protest march into Jerusalem that ultimately led to the promise of Easter… these last holy days highlight the universal importance of being present, in-person & in-memory, with one another.

This past year, IPM has had to reinvent what it means to be present in almost too many ways to imagine. Virtual forums, virtual immersions, virtual meetings, virtual Partnerships, virtual programs… Virtual or not, we have found that presence can happen no matter the time and distance between us. Accompaniment might not be as “easy” virtually, but we can be present for one another no matter the distance if we can trust that we’re all working together from our own spaces for equity, justice, and peace. 

Virtual will still have to suffice for a while. Many more will suffer as the gross disparities in our global health system are laid bare. Partnership without physical presence will continue to try our patience. The coming months won’t bring us back to pre-pandemic realities, but they will provide the chance to collectively reflect on what we’ve been through and where we’d like to head.

As we gradually begin to gather together again in person and anticipate the celebration of IPM’s 47th year on May 10th, I hope that this week’s Holy Days gift you with the renewal & revitalization accompaniment requires. 


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Joseph F. Cistone

April 2, 2021