Meeting in Paris

January 2015

I would like to begin this letter with a very big Thank You!

So many of you wrote me for my birthday, and also to wish me great joy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of L’Arche, a peaceful feast of the birth of Jesus and a Happy New Year. Unfortunately, I cannot answer you individually, but I would like to speak to each of you in a personal way through this letter, even if it is a circular. I feel at one with you and in prayer I give thanks with you for all that God gives us.

With a new year, one always hopes for something new. It’s a deep hope, not only that things will get better in the world and in our societies, that we will have more support, more communities, better health, more and more… etc. Above all, it is the hope that a new love will come into our hearts. Aren’t we waiting somehow to be set free? To be released from all that closes us up, our feelings of guilt, our negative emotions and our compulsion to win and be thought the best. In this yearning for liberation, there is the hope of rediscovering what is deepest within each of us: the child within. At this place, we are all children who need to be loved, to be a source of joy, to live relationships full of joy, through communion and mutual presence. Yes, we all thirst to be set free, to find a new source of life, our hearts at one with the heart with God.

Through this letter I would like to wish you a very “happy new year”, as much to everyone at L’Arche, as in Faith and Light, and to so many friends! May this new year be like a new birth where we discover a new love and a new energy. Let us pray together for more peace in our hearts, in our communities and in our world. Pray that we can be men and women ready to let go the barriers of fear, opening ourselves up to those who are different, becoming agents of reconciliation in celebration of the life that is given to us.

We are all full of joy above all for these 50 years of L’Arche. I am always very moved by these years of growth and of life, and by the celebrations that we have lived in each of our communities and each of our countries.

In the month of May, I took part in the big celebration that took place at Paray-le-Monial in France: I shared a few words with you about it in my last letter. In this place of pilgrimage, there were 2000 of us from L’Arche; the songs of joy really helped us to re-live our history.

And then, on September 27 in Paris, we had the big meeting at Place de la République: 7000 friends and members of L’Arche and Faith and Light. Philippe Pozzo di Borgo was there – a very disabled man known to some of you through the film “Untouchables”. From his wheelchair, and out of a life of such suffering, Philippe has such a particular way of speaking about friendship, about joy and hope. Along with Gregoire, the singer, we listened and joined in – his song was so simple: “allez, venez et entrez dans la danse” (“come and join the dance”). 5000 of us marched down the Boulevard Sebastopol – of course with the permission of the Mayor of Paris, as the traffic had to be held back for us. People who saw us passing by thought that we were demonstrating against something. We had to tell them that we were demonstrating for sheer joy at being together.

At the start of October, the community of Trosly hosted a three-day celebration, with representatives invited from the first L’Arche community in each country across the world. Each pair was made up of a person with a disability and an assistant. From far and near, 70 people came in all: from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, India, the Philippines, Latin America, North America, and of course from all the countries of Europe. It was an international celebration – a time to give thanks. Christine McGrievy did a brilliant job facilitating this beautiful celebration. On the final day, 560 people gathered together under an immense marquee to share a festive meal. You can imagine the joy!

And on December 8, the celebration carried on with Jean-Pierre Crepieux being received at the Élysée, the Presidential palace: he was the fourth person welcomed at the start of L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil. Along with 7 others of “the great and the good”, he was awarded the Legion of Honour at the hands of François Hollande. In his speech, the President spoke of Jean-Pierre very warmly. Several of us joined him in this beautiful celebration: representatives from the community of Ambleteuse (where he has lived since 1972), from Trosly (where he arrived in 1964) and from the whole of France. Naturally, Philippe Seux was there. The French media spoke a lot about Jean-Pierre and about L’Arche! Jean-Pierre is the first person with an intellectual disability to receive the Legion of Honour. Thanks to him, some people are starting to have a new vision about people who have a disability.

The L’Arche Jubilee year is over, we have celebrated Christmas and the New Year, and daily life is starting up again with all its joys and pains. Thanks be to God, who watches over us, and thank you to each of those who has participated and continues to share in this vast family across the world. Thank you for so many people who have lived a liberation from their fears, and from their difficulties in loving and opening themselves to others.

Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, there has been enormous change and progress in our societies: more than ever, each person is considered unique and important. This raising of consciousness came about after the awful discovery of Auschwitz, the concentration camps in Germany and in the Soviet Union. And also following the explosion of the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima where 100,000 people were killed at one fell stroke, with tens of thousands of others dying later from radiation.

And yet, in this era, one can forget why each person is precious: not on account of their personal success but by reason of their relationships of communion with others; we need other people in order to be truly human. In order for each person to become responsible and to open themselves up to others in a friendly relationship, they need to know how to live with others, in a family or in a community. A community is not a group of people shut in on themselves, in the belief that they are the best. It is a group of men and women who want to learn to love and to open their hearts to others. Perhaps each of us could learn to be more welcoming to the people in our neighbourhood and above all those living alone. Community is a school of love, of forgiveness and reconciliation. This implies that we be transformed, freed from all that closes us up, from our compulsions, our fears and prejudices.

I would like to share a prayer with you, written by my sister Thérèse when she was 80 years old. It is like a testament that she has left us:

May oppressed people and those who oppress them, free each other.
May those who are handicapped and those who think they are not, help each other.
May those who need someone to listen, touch the hearts of those who are too busy.
May the homeless bring joy to those who open their doors reluctantly.
May the lonely heal those who think they are self-sufficient.
May the poor melt the hearts of the rich.
May seekers of truth give life to those who are satisfied that they have found it.
May the dying who do not wish to die be comforted by those who find it hard to live.
May the unloved be allowed to unlock the hearts of those who cannot love.
May prisoners find true freedom and liberate others from fear.
May those who sleep on the streets share their gentleness with those who cannot understand them.
May the hungry tear the veil from the eyes of those who do not hunger after justice.
May those who live without hope cleanse the hearts of their brothers and sisters who are afraid to live.
May the weak confound the strong and save them.
May violence be overcome by compassion.
May violence be absorbed by men and women of peace.
May violence succumb to those who are totally vulnerable, that we may be healed.
Amen

This prayer conveys well what L’Arche is, and reflects what Lytta Basset was saying a few weeks ago at Trosly. This Swiss theologian and psychotherapist came to tell us the importance for each human of being looked on with tenderness. Someone then asked her how one could be tender towards Jihadists! She replied: “it is important to pray for each one, so that their true humanity can rise up and so that they do not stay locked in mad violence”. The important thing is that we be transformed and that we open our hearts to other people.

I hold you closely in my heart, and ask you to pray for me and for us all.

May God continue to transform us!

Jean

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