Family on Focus: Québec


Sr Camilla Martin reports the benefits of Non Violent Communication in the family home.


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Sr Camilla Martin is an OLA Sister from Québec.

A brief description of Non Violent Communication – a practice which could help families.

The process of Non Violent Communication [NVC] as initiated by Marshall B. Rosenberg at the beginning of the 1970’s, proposes a method of four steps which would be capable of improving our interpersonal relationships while always relating it to our own deep values. In fact, NVC is a new way of living. It proposes a lifestyle which takes into account all the human dimensions of the heart, body and spirit.

NVC proposes that a new language be adopted, that of the heart on which the process is based. In order to grasp this unusual vocabulary unknown to us up to now, Rosenberg drew up lists of feelings and needs which enrich our lives and change our perception of reality. These lists are in his book “Words are windows (or walls)” whose original title is “Non Violent Communication: a language of compassion.”

The whole process of NVC rests on the intention of being benevolent. It means speaking of what is alive in us and what contributes to making life more beautiful. If we put it into practice, NVC will undoubtedly help us to be instrumental in contributing to a new world of peace. This work begins in oneself, at the core of our being but spreads out into the heart of our family and social relationships.


For ten years, I have facilitated workshops on NVC and Circles of Monthly Practice here in Quebec. In order to understand the benefits of this method, giving responsibility and a sense of peace to the people involved, I allow those who have been initiated and who practise the method in daily life to share their experiences.

“Before learning about NVC I was not aware of having needs and I felt guilty when I dared to refuse some service in order to take care of myself. Now I am learning to act while taking into account my own values and my own interior feelings.  I try to listen to my own needs while at the same time being open to the requests of those around me. I allowed them to assume that I was always available for them but sometimes I have had enough and I see that my natural generosity has limits. Thanks to NVC I have learned that I do not need to wait on others nor do I expect them to attend to my needs. Gradually I have begun to affirm myself, identifying my needs and satisfying them without offending my relations.”

“Take time, this is a rule in NVC, time for self in order to listen to our needs and equally recognise the needs of the other. Belonging to a group is important in order to deepen this new way of communication.”

“I live NVC as a benevolent way of approaching our humanity. When conflict situations arise, I become more attentive to the actions of others and to my own reactions. A new awareness is established. This new language of empathetic listening, related to feelings and to needs, breaks down walls and opens up to the best in myself and in the other. These concepts, gradually incorporated, improve the quality of my intimate relations - family and friendly relations. I become more and more the being that I am deep down. The idea of guilt for self or for others is less present thanks to this growing awareness. Farewell to the reproaches, welcome to the heart’s understanding through real listening to what exactly is happening and being aware of what is being felt (sentiments and needs) beyond what an accuser may  have said or implied.”

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A map of the Québec Region is marked out in dark green. Source

The World is one big family ... it is crossed by violence, wars, divisions and turmoil. How can NVC contribute to making this world a peaceful place where it is good to live?

I continue to dream of the world as a large family where the people will live in peace together and I continue to persevere believing  that the more we are “dreamers  who will share this dream”, it will become a reality. My contribution in this world is to continue to form the people around me in NVC and to engage with them in the daily practice. This is like the words of Jesus “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your spirit and your neighbour as yourself.” Then the walls of hatred and of discord will fall in order to make room for love.

A commentary from a book by Marshall B. Rosenberg, supports this deep conviction [“Speak of peace in a world of conflict”]. “What you say next will change the world.” (2005), in our time where anger and violence govern human attitudes, “Speaking of Peace” comes at the right moment. Marshall Rosenberg shows us how to use our language and our communication as instruments of peace in the world. One remarkable book is by Arun Gandhi, President, Institute M.K. Gandhi for Nonviolence, USA.

I deeply believe that the practice of NVC is a means of personal transformation for connecting with our interior life but equally as an instrument of social change. Furthermore, all peaceful change with which we wish to connect begins with NVC by working on our own ways of thinking, on our own way of looking at self acceptance and others and on the means we use to meet our needs. This can never be at the expense of those in question.  We are asked to go beyond our acquired habits which are deeply entrenched within us in order to get the desired results in making the best judgement regarding fear, obligation, duty, reward and guilt.

“More and more I realise that communication is an art, which unfortunately, apart from my family inheritance, I ignore the rudiments. I come from a family where the way of communication rests essentially, not to say exclusively, on the unspoken. As children, if we ever arrived at expressing a feeling, we were saying “You will not remember the day of your wedding!” Although this expression contains a grain of wisdom, it does not teach us the importance of being connected with what is happening within us. If we could sometimes express how we are really feeling, this would never be addressed to the person concerned but rather to a third party. To describe but one example: if my mother had some concerns about one of my sisters, she would speak to me about it but would never speak directly to her. My awareness of this new way of communicating has allowed me to glimpse a way of communication other than that of reacting (tit for tat). In fact, I learned that behind all that is said (judgements, accusations) there are feelings and needs which are hidden. This has helped me to develop my kindness and not to judge others. This must not make me forget kindness to myself which I often forget! Following on these meetings I became better at listening to myself. This listening which before, did not feature very much in my life, is beginning to take its place although I still have a tendency to find excuses to please others.”


Sr Camilla Martin, OLA.

When we apply the principles of NVC to our lives and in conflict resolution we are led to see the other and the world in a different way. We use “power with” which invites collaboration and the contribution of each one, instead of “power over” which victimised and violated others or labels them and identifies them as enemies to be beaten down.

In order to develop attitudes of behaviours of compassion and peace, it is necessary to communicate with kindness by giving and receiving messages which are inspired by the two essential questions of NVC: “what is alive in me, in us?” and “What can we do to make life more beautiful?”When the vocabulary of feelings and needs of the NVC are appropriated, we can relate to others in a constructive and authentic way and thus render the world a better place by coming closer to one another.

Finally, my dream takes root very slowly in this vision which speaks to me of proximity: “I saw in the distance and I thought it was an animal. I approached and saw that it was a human being. I went closer and I understood that it was my brother, my sister” (a Tibetan proverb).


Ministry to migrants: a family without borders


On the paths of the heart

The Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran reminds us that the Earth is our homeland and humankind is our family.” I think that this is happening much more since the beginning of the new millennium when our country has opened its borders more widely to welcome persons and families looking for security and peace in order to give a present and a future to their children. In our ageing society, their arrival gives hope because multiculturalism offers creative opportunities to which each person is called to make their unique contribution for the good of all.

Returning to Quebec after more than twenty years of missionary life, I nourished my missionary dynamism by working with an Egyptian Sister to welcome the migrants coming from Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. In a pluricultural Quebec, the government developed an intercultural policy focussed on integration of the new arrivals in order to build an open “living – togetherness” open to the diverse cultures which populate the country.

The OLA Sisters have linked up with community organisations which have formed groups to welcome the refugees and immigrants and are working daily with brothers and sisters. As we are committed to NVC, we give privilege to the language of the heart with the migrants. This pays attention to the needs of the persons and of the families so that one day soon they will be able to say “we feel at home”, Quebec is our country.”

Welcome and Integration

Integration is a major challenge which, at the same time, concerns the migrants and those who welcome them. Our national poet, Gilles Vigneault in his song “One never knows” invites to welcome the migrant in a conscious and kind manner: 

“We must never close our heart to the stranger or to the traveller

Whether he comes at mid-day or with the moon at night

Far from his house, far from his homeland

He comes towards us the traveller

He is at the mercy of the heart.

Let him come at mid-day or in the moonless night

Far from home, far from his homeland

He comes to us the traveller He is at the mercy of the heart.”


At the moment, our work of accompaniment is carried out with the Syrian families who have been sponsored either by religious communities, or by members of their families who are already settled here, or are linked with agencies. The Parish community provides services to refugees and immigrants.

Together with a Syrian lady friend who has worked with us since her arrival two years ago and is employed by the Jesuit Mission, we have set up a workshop in French / Arabic with the theme “How best to live in a different country”.  This workshop has helped individuals to tell their stories, to listen to each other, to create links and to become aware of the current needs which encourage them to advance in adapting to their new life.

On the path of integration, Immigration Department promotes the learning of French in the first year of their arrival in Quebec. One thing is clear: it is difficult to speak in French while skipping the different levels which would be a normal way to proceed. The children, who are placed in classes in school, learn the language more quickly. In an Arabic-speaking environment, parents have more difficulty in learning our language. Some OLA Sisters help with homework because the parents are not able to supervise home- work after classes.

For the past two years, I am the Co-director of a project called VIE (Towards an Effective Integration), initiated by a Syrian lady friend who came here two years ago and put her all her previous talents at the service of the Syrian newcomers so as to facilitate their integration into the Quebec society. In the autumn of 2017, a pilot project “Communicate in French” has seen the opportunity for a suitable apprenticeship in groups. They have chosen subjects responding to their immediate needs: doing the shopping, going to the pharmacy, being autonomous in moving around, asking for directions. This group achieved one stage in 10 weeks because of having two meetings per week. After an evaluation and pleased with their experience and interest on the part of the students, we will continue after Easter with 4 groups instead of 3: “I begin”; “I advance”; “I engage” and the last one “I communicate with kindness” in the spirit of NVC. I will facilitate this last group myself and that is a whole challenge which I undertake with certain misgivings because their French is not yet advanced. What motivates me is to help them to connect with the best in themselves and to address the needs in their new situations where they are called to live in line with their own values and with the new environment.

We also do visitation of homes where we are welcomed by the families. This is the other side of the picture from which they benefitted on their arrival. These are privileged moments of sharing and exchanges about their concerns and their aspirations. We spend time for celebrating with the migrants with whom we have created links - the Christmas party, various events that are important in their lives: births, reception of citizenship, and a compassionate presence during illness or death of a loved one here or in their country of origin.

At the Faith and Spirituality Centre three OLA Sisters give psycho-spiritual formation in the spirit of NVC. There is a place for cultural days in order to learn about the cultures of people with whom we share life. This initiative allows the Madagascar, Moroccan and soon the Syrian communities to present their history, diverse aspects of their culture and their contribution to the society here.  This is very pleasant sharing when we have a taste of the diverse colours and rhythms of other cultures.

Whatever be our cultural origins during these intercultural encounters, we can together sing the national anthem (unofficial) of Gilles Vigneault in Quebec whose lyrics are very popular:


“People of the country, it’s your turn to let you speak of love

The time it takes to say “I love you”

It is the only remaining phrase at the end of our days

Wishes that we make, the flowers that we sow,

Each harvest in oneself, 

in the beautiful garden of the passing time.”


 - Sr Camilla Martin

[Article kindly translated from French to English by Sr Patricia Menamin]