Mother Teresa claimed September 1946 as the beginning of her Missionaries of Charity Congregation. She was thirty-six years of age. Jean Vanier began L’Arche in 1964, almost twenty years later. He was thirty-six years old. These were two beautiful human beings who accompanied each other on their respective life-missions, inspired by the Holy One and by the Poor of the world. They were ‘friends in the Spirit.'
Sue Mosteller is a Sister of St. Joseph and a teacher. Sue gives retreats and workshops in Canada and elsewhere in the world. She has authored three books, the latest being Light Through the Crack, Life After Loss. Today Sue, as a member of the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust, works with Henri’s spiritual legacy.
Mother Teresa was foolish to think that she, a foreigner in India, could alleviate to any extent, the vast sufferings of people in Calcutta. Jean Vanier was foolish too. After spending years studying Philosophy and Theology, he seemed to abandon his great potential to live with people with disabilities often from situations of extreme anguish. So, it’s not hard to realize how these two daring and foolish people became friends in the Spirit!
At Jean’s invitation, Mother Teresa spent time in L’Arche communities, sharing her stories of dying friends from the streets of Calcutta, destitute and alone, unwanted and unwashed. L’Arche people were welcomed to her convents and mission stations around the world and found inspiration for their own life journeys. Mother recounted and revealed the beauty and precious gifts of the destitute and dying. And L’Arche folk witnessed how so many of ‘Mother’s people’ left this world without friends or property, but enhanced with the dignity and love of the Sisters that bathed, bandaged, and circled them with the treasure of human dignity in death.
At Mother Teresa’s encouragement, Jean visited and shared his love for Jesus and for ‘his people’ with hundreds of her sisters and co-workers in numerous countries of the world. He opened a new door to them, the world of those whose deepest pain is not that they are disabled mentally or emotionally, but rather that they are marginalized, teased, talked down to, unwanted and unrecognized for their beautiful hearts of spontaneity, welcome, and love. Jean shared the transformational experience of welcoming in kindness, mutual respect, the poorest and the weakest and allowing them to become our teachers on the human journey.
Their friendship was far from closed, but affected thousands of lives on five continents. Both became famous yet remained deeply humble, committed, and open to be transformed by love. They, as well as others who participated in their lives, remained faithful because they shared the secrets of a love that blessed each other on the way to becoming truly human.