On May 7, Jean Vanier died at age 90. He was an impressive spiritual leader and pioneer in the enabling of people with various mental and physical challenges.
In 1964, this French-Canadian philosopher, spiritual writer and navy veteran was searching for his calling when he visited an asylum near Paris for the mentally disabled. The overcrowding and filth appalled him. “Will you be my friend?” one of the residents, Raphael Simi, asked him.
Mr. Vanier’s answer was to invite him to live with him in a small house in the village of Trosly, France. Soon they were joined by others. Soon the home, called L’Arche, after Noah’s Ark, was replicated 150 times in 38 countries providing joyful communal living for over 5000 members. Vanier said, “They taught me to be human, to accept my own weaknesses and vulnerability. I no longer had to pretend I am strong, or clever, or better than others.”
A devout Catholic layman, Vanier was asked what others could do who were not able to devote themselves full-time to serving others. He said, ”Try and find somebody who is lonely. And when you go to see them, they will see you as the Messiah. Go and visit a little old lady who has no friends or family. Bring her flowers. People say, ‘But that is nothing.’ It is nothing — but it is everything.”
Thank God for Jean Vanier and L’arche!
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Copyright 2019 Fr. Willy Raymond, C.S.C.