My mom and I watched a documentary on EWTN recently called the “Vanier Way.” A group of students from the Canadian Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School: “visit the L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France, and immerse themselves in the culture as they partake in workshops in pottery, mosaics, and gardening.” (@EWTN) These disillusioned high school students visit Parisian and French cultural, religious, and historical sights as well as immersing themselves in a few different L’Arche communities around the Paris area. The students were more moved by the L’Arche community than the Eiffel tower. Why? Because they experienced authentic love and joy. They experienced real truth and beauty amid the broken, outcast, and “undesirables” of society.
“L’Arche was not my project, but God’s.”- Jean Vanier
The students are blessed to interact with the Founder Jean Vanier who established the first L’Arche community in the late 1960s outside Paris after visiting local asylums. A female friend suggested the term “L’Arche” or “The Ark” in English indicating a community where people with intellectual disabilities could create a new family and no longer hide in the shadows of society. In 1970, the first L’Arche community opened in India. In 1972, the first USA L’Arche home was founded in Erie, PA. Theologian and priest Henri Nouwen lived his last 10 years at a Toronto’s Daybreak L’Arche home. As the founder states, “L’Arche’s first seeds were planted in the earth of the Roman Catholic Church. Through God’s grace, other seeds were planted in other soils. . . L’Arche became ecumenical.” All L’Arche communities have a religious dimension to their community even in communities with those of severe intellectual disabilities. “Some communities are one religion, others are inter-denominational or inter-faith. Members are encouraged to grow in their spiritual journeys, and people who are not affiliated with a particular religious tradition are also welcomed and respected in their freedom of conscience.”
“Without this spiritual dimension and growth in holiness, L’Arche could become simply another group home. It would lose what makes it unique.”- Jean Vanier
The beauty of the documentary lies in the reactions of the high school students interacting with members of the community, how they process those interactions, and the transformative seeds planted. Another beautiful aspect is the insightful and authentic observation and story telling quality of Jean Vanier who speaks with a spiritual depth, peace, and humility few people evoke. He warns about the impact of social media (guilty here) and the power of “the tyranny of the Group.” And provides interacting on a human level with “the other” as an antidote against “the tyranny of the group.” These human interactions, absent of cell phones and social media shake us up and out of ourselves and illuminate the lies and pressure we follow so blindly with or without question.
The heart of the Vanier Way is simply the recognize and live in accordance with the profound recognition of the intrinsic dignity of every human being from conception to natural death regardless of form or function. Our job is to love. Love and be loved in return. To love without measure or degree. To love the lovable and unlovable. And to allow love to transform us and inform us. “Freedom exists for the sake of love.” – St. John Paul II
“Our community life is beautiful and intense, a source of life for everyone. People with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.” —Jean Vanier
May God bless you and keep you! You are more precious than you believe!
To learn more about the United State’s L’Arche community: LINK
To learn more about the International L’Arche community: LINK