Wednesday, May 8, 2019
A truly great man passed from this life to the next two days ago -- Jean Vanier. He dedicated much of his 90 years of life to making the world a better place for people with disabilities, and, as a consequence, a better place for everyone in the world. He is probably best known for founding L'Arche, a worldwide movement dedicated to bringing men and women with disabilities into the heart of their societies, making their voices heard, and providing a true home and the opportunity to share everyone’s unique gifts to the fullest.
For the past two years, I have had the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors of L'Arche USA, supporting the work of L'Arche communities in the US. (In fact, I am leaving tomorrow for our bi-annual in-person board meeting, taking place in Erie, PA, where the very first L'Arche community in the US was founded in 1972.) I have truly come to appreciate the genius of Jean, and what he set in place back in 1964, when he moved into this little house in Trosley, France, with two men with developmental disabilities, Raphaël and Philippe.
In addition to his work with L’Arche, Vanier co-founded Faith and Light and inspired the creation of many other organizations. He influenced thousands of people around the world and published some 40 books, including on how people with intellectual disabilities make essential contributions to building a more humane society.
His most-widely read book is probably Becoming Human. Two more that I particularly treasure are Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Power of Weakness (with Stanley Hauerwas), and Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John.
His sister, Thérèse Vanier, who left a distinguished career as a pioneering doctor in palliative care to join the L'Arche movement, wrote the following beautiful prayer which captures so much of what you will find in Jean's writings, and his life's work:
“May oppressed people and those who oppress them set one another free. May those who are disabled and those who think they are not, help one another. May those who need someone to listen to them move the hearts of those who are too busy. May the homeless give joy to those who, albeit unwillingly, open their door to them. May the poor melt the hearts of the rich. May those who seek the truth give life to those who are satisfied because they have already found it. May the dying who do not want to die be comforted by those who find it very hard to live. May those who are not loved be authorized to open the hearts of those who are not successful in loving. May prisoners find true freedom and free others from fear. May those who sleep on the streets share their kindness with those who do not manage to understand them. May the hungry tear the veil from the eyes of those who do not hunger for justice. May those who live without hope purify the hearts of their brothers and sisters who are afraid of living. May the weak confuse the strong. May hatred be surmounted by compassion. May violence be neutralized by men and women of peace. May it surrender to those who are totally vulnerable, so that we may be healed.”