The art of accompaniment

From VincentWiki

The Art of Accompaniment From the Perspective of a Painting (Emmaus)' by Siger Köder

[This presentation was given during the First International Gathering of the Advisors for the Vincentian Marian Youth Association (Paris, July 15-20, 2014)]

In Spanish


Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus (Luke 24:13)

Those who accompany another are persons who are attentive and sensitive to others; they are not in a hurry and they know that, although there are many important things to do and urgent options that must examined, the plant does not grow by uprooting it. Rather the plant must be given time to develop and grow. Those who accompany another do not uproot that person, but rather nourish and nurture the other; they give the other person hope and they are able to smile.

Good morning brothers and sisters. I want to begin with some words from the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization (#173). At this point in my ministry I have many dreams and hopes for the young men and women who are members of the Vincentian Family. I want to see people who are able to dream, who are filled with hope, who feel fulfilled and who have a strong sense of belonging to one of our institutions. In order for this to occur we need to accompany others and we ourselves need to be accompanied.

Accompaniment is healthy and results in well-being. We cannot walk alone. In addition to accompanying others, I also want to encourage others to do the same. I know that some people are able to do this while others are looking for the tools that will enable them to do this and still others have good intentions but in this regard good intentions are not enough.

Why am I going to use a painting? Because some people see while others look and in this case I have, with all humility, looked and I have opted for this methodology. I believe that utilizing analogies helps us to develop our ideas and questions and also helps us to learn and unlearn.

When I introduced myself to the National Advisors and to the members of the VMY throughout the world, I used an analogy with music. Today I invite you to listen and to dance.

Music and ministry with young men and women: the basic elements of music are rhythm, melody, harmony and some others. What would happen if we integrated life with spirit and charism and personal values? What would be the result of that integration? Ministry with young people has its own unique melody, a different rhythm, and is harmonized in different ways and on certain occasions has its rough spots. Nevertheless, if we gather together all these elements, we will have the sounds of a beautiful musical composition. This is how I view ministry with young people. Various elements have to be combined and therefore together with the young men and women of our Association and with their present reality … with all of this we must compose a musical piece that will encourage the members of the VMY. It is hoped that this in turn will lead others along the path of faith and service. In order for this to happen we must give of our time and we have to learn to connect life and ability and rhythm and melody, etc.

I invite you all to go the dance floor and let us remember that music always unites people and tears down the barriers that separate them. Our Pope is on the dance floor; he is on the front lines and not sitting on the warm-up bench and waiting.

Why use this artist and not some other? Because this artist communicates a profound understanding of Jesus.

I hope that this will serve as a useful tool that will help us develop the task of accompaniment and also help us to carry out this task with love and enthusiasm and joy.

What is art?

Art is an ability to communicate to another one’s own feelings through the utilization of exterior signs. It is a visible expression of that which is beautiful.

What is accompaniment?

The word accompaniment has a broad meaning, but I want to begin by looking at the Latin word, cum panis, which literally means one who shares bread, one who is beside another person, one who is near to another, listens to and enters into dialogue with others, one who fosters an interpersonal relationship with another. It can be said that there are two forms of accompaniment. One form heals wounds and allows for personal integration (usually specialists and/or professionals engage in this form of accompaniment). The other form of accompaniment is pastoral accompaniment and this is proper to everyone.

There are biblical passages that we could highlight because they refer to the task of accompaniment: the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Good Samaritan, the Good Shepherd, the prodigal son. In each of these passages the element of “closeness” is highlighted. This closeness occurs even though there are cultural differences (Samaritans and Jews) and the rejection of values (the prodigal son). The Apostolic Exhortation states that the joy of the gospel can enlighten some aspects of the ministry of accompaniment [1]. That is no easy task.

Human beings need to be accompanied from the time of their birth. If this is true, then this is all the more necessary for young women and men. This is not an easy task to accomplish and paraphrasing Socrates we can say that it is very serious to entrust one’s soul to another … that implies being beside others, helping them in the process of discernment, helping them to journey through life. Similar to the analogy of the wall and the ivy that Savatar uses, without the one (the wall) the second one will not grow (the ivy). Therefore when young people are supported they can move forward in life. If this support is not given we will often see disastrous results [2].

The pastoral accompaniment of young people implies making them pause, that is, helping them to remain focused on what they are doing and doing this over a sufficient period of time so that the initial curiosity, which at that stage is weak and transitory, becomes strengthened and takes on a specific direction [3].

Who is accompanied?

A companion, as indicated by the very word, can accompany any person, but here I want to refer to accompanying young men and women as the primary focal point of the companion. When we speak about young people we could speak about many different characteristics and those characteristics will also vary greatly according to one’s culture, where and when one is born, place of development, education, etc. I do not want to go into great detail here because I do not want to lose sight of our starting point and our objective --- the companion.

Young people are bombarded by the consumer society which invites them to find happiness in “having” rather than “being”. Television offers models for life, examples and counter-examples; it puts aside every form of modesty and promotion and presents people with news that is often contradictory. “Television tends to reproduce the mechanisms of primary socialization that are utilized by the family and the church: socialization through gestures, through the creation of an affective environment, tone of voice, promotion of certain beliefs, emotions and demands total adhesion” (J.C. Tedesco). “There is nothing more subversive than television. What is proper to television is that it operates when parents are unable to be present and many times is used to distract children from the fact that parents are not present. On other occasions parents will be present but they are very quiet and bored as they sit in front of their televisions. When these children reach adolescence they are the product of this manner of living” [4].

Closeness and listening can be very helpful when meeting with young men and women. These young people must be made to feel comfortable. We must create intimacy and avoid interruptions … we must allow sufficient time for the young person to speak from the heart. There will be times when we have to place ourselves in the situation of the young person in order to understand what they are telling us.

Who is Sieger Köder

Sieger Köder was born on 3rd January 1925 in Wasseralfingen, Germany, where he completed his studies. During the Second World War he was sent to France as a front line soldier where he was made a prisoner or war. Once back from captivity, Sieger Köder attended the Academy School of Art in Stuttgart until 1951; then he studied English philology at the University of Tubigen as part of his qualification as a teacher. After 12 years or teaching art and working as an artist, Köder undertook theological studies for the priesthood and in 1971 he was ordained a Catholic priest.

From 1975 to 1995, Fr. Köder exercised his ministry as a parish priest in Hohenberg and Rosenberg and today he lives in retirement in Ellwangen, not far from Stuttgart. The years of his ministry as a priest are among the most prolific with inspiring works of art. There is complete synergy between Fr Köder being a minister and an artist.

Köder's art is heavily charged with his personal experience of war during the Nazi period and the time of the Holocaust. His paintings also have a profound theological significance. He almost never paints the face of Christ but rather shows Christ’s face reflected in water or wine (for example, in his paintings of the washing of the feet and the last supper). At other times Jesus is painted in such a way that he appears to be outside the painting, as a spectator who wants to show that Jesus is indeed alive today in the person of those who are looking at the painting.

Köder uses his paintings in the same manner that Jesus used parables. He always tells a story that is filled with symbolism and color, a story that reveals the complexity of the human situation and the depth of Christian faith [5].

Characteristics of his paintings – style

Sieger Köder is a later follower of the artistic current that dominated the early part of the 20th Century in Germany. We are referring to expressionism which was inspired by Van Gogh who emphasized content over form. His intention was to express what he was feeling and no formal or esthetical conditions were placed on his expression. Through the use of color, aggressive composition, distorted forms, etc., he wanted his paintings to have an emotional impact on the persons who viewed them. Expressionist paintings have no respect with regard to perspective, composition and the treatment of light. The expressionist artists utilize color in a violent way, creating distorted forms or caricatures that provoke feelings in the spectator that are the same as the feelings of the artist. Besides color, the expressionists like symbolism that conveys content more powerfully that the objective representation of things. Their form of expression is linear and flat and very rhythmical. They search for absolute simplification in form and color and in this sense they attempt to recover the forms of expression that are seen in primitive and medieval art.

How to view Köder’s paintings [6]

The expressionists want to create interior emotions. Therefore we have to view their paintings and reflect on our own emotional reaction. In each painting Siger Köder is telling us a story … a story about the human person, about you and I … at the same time he is telling us a story about God. Each of his paintings contains an explicit reference to various biblical texts. It would be good if we could look at these paintings while reflecting on our own feelings and on what God wants to tell us in the biblical text that inspired said painting.

Reflection on accompaniment

The painting of the disciples on the road to Emmaus

This painting represents the biblical passage that is known as the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). In the passage we learn of the disillusionment of the disciples. Two disciples are traveling and sharing their life. They are sad, disillusioned and discouraged as a result of recent events. They had believed that Jesus would redeem Israel, but that did not occur. They were about to return to their former way of life because there was no one to help them reflect and analyze what they had just experienced. Jesus took the initiative and approached them; he listened to them and was concerned about their discouragement. He asked them: what were you talking about? … Jesus entered into their reality and their feelings, but the disciples did not realize who was accompanying them. Jesus walked with them, listened to them, asked them questions and understood that faith is a process (at times a very long process). When the disciples recognized Jesus, he disappeared. The disciples then hurried back to Jerusalem in order to communicate and share the Good News: Jesus is life and hope, in other words, Jesus’ plan makes sense.

In the painting a formless light occupies the central focal point. There are three moments in the painting that I will describe separately. In the central part there are two men seated at a table and the table is set with bread and wine. In each of the three moments some of the characteristics of accompaniment will be highlighted.

First Moment

The left side of the painting.

It is difficult to see the faces of the men and their features. We do not know if they are traveling but we do see that they have a book in their hands. In the darkness, however, it is impossible to read the text (regardless of how clear the text might be)

Expanding our vision of the painting, we see that those men are far from the mountain where there are crosses and the moon. The background of this part of the painting is dark.

This makes me think that the one who accompanies the young men and women will not always be able to see in a clear manner what is behind these young people. Nevertheless the attitude of being near to these young men and women is most important.

Patient listening: to know how to listen, to not be hurried, to give of our time. We need to listen and to be quiet before attempting to speak something that will be significant for the young person. We must accept the fact that each person has his/her own rhythm and our role is support them in this process.

The crosses signify the accompaniment of Jesus who was crucified. What the disciples thought had happened to Jesus, did not occur in the way that they thought. Things have lost their meaning. In the shadows there appears to be a third person outlined in the light. This could be a symbol of the experience of the Risen Lord which they had not understood: they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them (Luke 24:14-15)

Those who accompany others have had an experience of faith which in turn has led them to place themselves at the service of young men and women. They experienced themselves as loved and now they can help others to feel loved; they can communicate a joy in living and help people discover meaning in their life. Listening is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur (Evangelii Gaudium, 171).

Second Moment

Are these the same men? Now we can distinguish their clothing, one is dressed in red and the other in blue; they are sitting at a table that is covered with the white cloth. They are sitting very close to the table and on the table are three glasses filled with a red liquid (perhaps wine) … there are two people but three glasses. The bread has been broken into two pieces which corresponds to the number of people seated at table, but one of the men has bread in his hands, so in fact there are three pieces of bread.

To accept another person is to encounter that individual in a more profound manner. It is to welcome and treat young people with kindness … it is to know how to be in harmony with the heart of another, thus going beyond words that are spoken or heard and not forcing silence [7] … what are you discussing as your walk along (Luke 24:16).

Humility: We must be keenly aware that we are not the principal actors, but limited instruments of God’s action, instruments who are given the opportunity to support the development of the young people. Companions are not a shoulder to cry on but are people who share their life with these young men and women and also share in their reality and dreams and hopes.

Helping instruments: It is not enough to accept and welcome, to sit at table, to wait to eat, one must also help young people to recognize their needs and reality. Companions provide this help through dialogue which is done in an appropriate place, in an environment of acceptance which is achieved by drawing closer to and listening to the young men and women. One should be clear about where one wants to go. Some questions that might help in this process are: what are you looking for? Why now? Why with me? Do not forget to draw up a plan of accompaniment.

Attitudes: Companions should have a positive attitude when dealing with young men and women: acceptance, friendship, approachability, the ability to set boundaries, propose option. Adolescents and young people are helped when boundaries are established. Companions ought to trust and believe in those persons whom they are accompanying and they should help the young person become the best possible person.

[a] In front of the table


Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures … Stay with us because it is nearly evening and the day is almost over (Luke 24:27, 29).

In front of the table are some writings, a scroll and two tablets with writing [8] … as if they were being studied, perhaps the Torah [9]. The brightness of the light forms an arc over the lintel. Perhaps someone is there or was there but because of the brightness of the light we cannot see the person. Perhaps because it is late these two persons will invite the third person to eat with them … but then he disappears. Perhaps they leave the door open … they recognized him in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:31, 35).

The companion in involved in a non-directive, freeing accompaniment: the companion does not say, “I know and you do not know”. We should mention here that accompanying young persons has three moments: [1] the dream: helping them put behind them their infancy so that they can move forward; [2] the plan: helping the young person exercise his/her will; [3] accomplishment, the companions are clear in understanding that their objective is to help the young men and women become adults and all of these different processes are needed to accompany these individuals.

Is invited: Companions are invited to participate in the world of another; they are given entrance because they are near and they undersand the life of those who extend the invitation … they do not tell people what they have to do or how they have to do things. They have great respect for others. As the young men and women who are being accompanied grow and develop, their role of the companion decreases in its intensity [10].

Is creative: pastoral results do not depend on the wealth of resources, but on the creativity of love [11]. Companions, with the means that are available to them and with the opportunity that they are offered, take advantage of all of this in order to accompany others on life’s journey.

[b] Two different postures

First posture: the eyes of the man clothed in blue are downcast, as if he is thinking; his head is covered with a prayer shawl (a talit) [12] and he is reflecting on his customs and traditions. He eats the bread in silence, shyly, perhaps praying before eating … his gaze seems to be somewhat lost or perhaps he is looking at the writings.

Respectful: companions are people who know or who engage in knowing and understanding the situation of young people; they are people who can listen whenever necessary (Evangelii Gaudium, #169). Listening helps them to find the right gesture or word which shows that they are more than simply bystanders (Evangelii Gaudium, #171).

Second posture: the man clothed in red is looking toward the light, an attentive position and also a sign of admiration because of the position of his right hand. He holds a glass of wine in his left hand and his arms are resting on the various papers. His prayer shawl (talit) is on his shoulders … perhaps he had been talking with someone and not praying … but with whom was he conversing? His erect posture is calm and secure … he appears optimistic.

Helping to mature: Pastoral accompaniment is not intended to create infantile behavior but rather wants people to be independent. There is dialogue and sharing and each one has distinct tasks. The gospel proposes that companions correct others and help them to grow as they recognize the error of their behavior. Companions, however, do not make any judgment with regard to the responsibility or the guilt of the one they are accompanying. A good companion does not give in to frustrations or fears (Evangelii Gaudium, 172).

People need time in order to achieve maturity, that is, a stage in which people can make free and responsible decisions. Therefore companions must be patient; they cannot make young people follow their rhythm and would not attempt to follow the rhythm of the young men and women because that would detract from the task of accompaniment.

Third Moment

So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!" Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:33-35).

Behind the man clothed in red we see some other men holding a large candle that showers them in light. They carry the candle in their hands. Are there other hands involved here, hands from the first movement? Who are the people we cannot see and are they ecstatic? Are there people here from the second movement? Or from the first movement? It seems that their posture and attitude has changed as a result of the second movement.

Companions are educators. They know what is happening in their surroundings. Education is not simply a process of transmitting knowledge but is also communicating an ideal for life or a plan for society [13] which in turn can become life-giving to the young person as he/she becomes a protagonist in society.

Companions allow others to help them. They know other people who can collaborate with them in their role as companions, for example, teachers, legal advisors, psychologists. They know how to look for collaborators among those persons who belong to the Church … a Church that is able to return to Jerusalem. These companions listen and are warm and approachable rather than cold and rigid. They are able to enflame the hearts of others [14] … When this task is done in collaboration with others, it is done better.

Up-to-date: accompaniment in the digital era … today knowledge is very accessible to young people through various technological means such as television, telephone, mobile phone, internet, social networks (facebook, twitter, what’s app), etc. This excess of information can, however, create confusion. Therefore, it is important to organize the essence of the message and to provide young people with values that will help them in their process of development.

We need men and women who, in light of their experience in the process of accompaniment, are prudent and understanding, patient and docile to the Spirit, people who are able to care for all the sheep that are entrusted to them, in this case, the young men and women from so many different countries throughout the world (Evangelii Gaudium, #171).

Art and Pastoral Accompaniment

Let us point out some elements that the artists and the companion have in common:

  • They are patient; time is their ally; their life has rhythm.
  • They identify what has to be done and in the act of doing they continue to be creative.
  • They are passionate, dedicated in what they believe and do.
  • They have certain abilities (awe and contemplation).
  • They are experienced in what they are doing.
  • They are creative and the offer the best of themselves.
  • They have pastiche.

Evangelii Nuntiandi reminds us that fidelity both to a message whose servants we are and to the people to whom we must transmit it living and intact is the central axis of evangelization (#4). The encounter is a proclamation and an insertion into a broader growth process and the integration of every dimension of the person within a communal journey of hearing and response (Evangelii Gaudiium, #166) which arises as the result of an experience of faith and service. This path of formation and growth involves doctrinal formation (Cf., Evangelii Gaudium 160, 161) in a manner that is fraternal, warm and dialogical … and all of these are elements of the art of accompaniment (Evangelii Gaudium, #169).

Accompaniment ought to lead people closer to God who offers us complete freedom. Accompaniment would be counterproductive if it were to become some form of therapy. If therapy is needed, then recourse should be had to professions who can provide that service.

Here in this workshop I have attempted to highlight the person of those who accompany others, that is, persons who want to provide this service and who are approachable, able to listen, able to enter into dialogue with other, able to ask questions and are patient (if a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit [Matthew 15:14]). They are people who have found in their life and they are able to motivate young men and women to share their experience faith with others, to see God in the poor and the poor in God. Accompaniment is a form of witness that is revealed in the attitudes of those who are accompanying others. Those who accompany young people must be concerning about helping these men and women to make their own decisions as they journey forward in life. Accompaniment does not mean that one points out the way, but rather than one helps the young person to become an agent and a protagonist in their own development.


[1] This is a reference to the preacher who needs to listen to the people in order to discover what they need to hear (Evangelii Gaudium, #154).

[2] Fernando Savater, El valor de educar [The value of education], Editorial Ariel, 14th edition, Barcelona, p. 47.

[3] Cf. Massino Desiatro, “Reseña de ‘el valor de educar’ de Fernando Savater” [Review of Fernando Savater’s book, “The Value of Education”], Revista Educere, vol. 4, number 11, October-December 2000, Andes University , Venezuela, p. 267-268.

[4] Savater, op.cit., p. 32-33.


[6] Ibid.

[7] José Antonio Ubillús, “The Role of the Advisor in the Vincentian Family Lay Groups” in Vincentiana, July- October, 2002, Number 4-5, p. 455.

[8] The two tablets of the Law with the ten words (commandments) is another religious symbol that is characteristic of the Jewish people, frequently sculpted or represented in the synagogue. It should be remembered that God gave the Torah (the Law) on Mount Sinai and called the people to be faithful and obedient to God.

[9] The complete body of Jewish teaching and law. The Hebrew word means law or doctrine as well as instruction and teaching … in its more profound meaning the Torah is the spiritual root the center of the people and the world is its physical expression.

[10] Ubillús, op.cit., p. 454

[11] Antonio Spadaro, “El sueño del papa Francisco” [The Dream of Pope Francis], in El rostro futuro de la Iglesia [The future face of the Church], Publicaciones Claretianas, 2013, p. 57.

[12] The tallit is worn over the outer clothes during the morning prayers (Shacharit) and worn during all prayers on Yom Kippur. The tallit has special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners. Most traditional tallitot are made of wool. Tallitot are often first worn by children on their Bar Mitzvahs. In orthodox, Ashkenazi circles, a Tallit is customarily presented to a groom before marriage as part of the dowry.

[13] Savater, op.cit., p. 43

[14] Spadaro, op.cit., p. 63.



Savater, Fernando. “El valor de educar” [The value of education] , ed. Ariel, 14ª Edición, Barcelona.

Spadaro, Antonio. “El sueño del papa Francisco” [The dream of Pope Francis], El rostro futuro de la Iglesia [The future face of the Church], Publicaciones claretianas, 2013.


Desiato, Massino, “Reseña de ‘el valor de educar’ de Fernando Savater” [Review of Fernando Savater’s book, “The Value of Education”], Revista Educere, vol. 4, number 11, October-December 2000, Andes University , Venezuela, p. 267-268.

Ubillus, José Antonio. “The Role of the Advisor in the Vincentian Family Lay Groups” in Vincentiana, July- October, 2002, Number 4-5, p. 455.


Pontifical Council for Culture, The Via Pulchritudinis, Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue Concluding Document of the Plenary Assembly, 2006

Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation, 2013.

WEB PAGES [these are all in Spanish] acompanamiento.html

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM