“An Amazing Canadian!”
Jean Vanier, 1928 – 2019
(some wording for this week’s reflection has been borrowed for the Zenit web site)
There are some who truly give of themselves exceptionally! Jean Vanier was one such person. The son of a former governor general of Canada, Vanier died this week at the age of 90. As a young man he could have gone into virtually any career, but following a brief stint in the military he felt called to a specifically spiritual path in life.
In September of 1950 he joined L’Eau Vive, a center of theological formation for the laity. He remained there for many years, intent on becoming a priest, but in 1964, while visiting a psychiatric hospital in a Parisian suburb, he was personally moved by the distress of two of the patients there: Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux. Vanier decided to stay with them, and eventually live with them. He found a small dwelling, a home, in Trosly-Breuil, the three moved there, and that was the start of L’Arche – July, 1964.
Today L’Arche hosts more than 1200 mentally disabled persons in 149 established Communities recognized as social-medical establishments. L’Arche International Federation is present in 38 countries. L’Arche Calgary operates 5 homes and 29 people with mental disabilities are supported in their daily living. The web site states: “Some of our people spent their childhood and youth in poverty or shut away in institutions; others isolated in places where basic human need for community and belonging were not met…. Those with developmental disabilities grow through their encounters in L’Arche. Through daily acts of care, trust, and friendship, they develop into ambassadors of compassion and leaders for social change and the common good.”
In 1968 Vanier and Marie Helen Matthieu organized a pilgrimage specifically for mentally disabled people. In 1971 a “Faith and Light” pilgrimage was held at Lourdes, bringing together 12,000 pilgrims from 15 countries, 4000 of whom were mentally challenged.
In his last personal message, Vanier offered these words: “I feel profoundly at peace and in trust. I don’t know what my future will be made of, but God is good and whatever happens, it will be for the best. I’m happy and I say thank you for everything. From the bottom of my heart, my love for each one of you.”
Jean Vanier made his life’s work that of caring for those whom Jesus referred to as “the least among us”. His tireless efforts, born out of agape love, demonstrated some of what God’s kingdom resembles. Thanks be to God!
Grace and Peace.