Fifty years ago, on August 4, 1964, Jean Vanier moved into a house in Trosly-Breuil, France, with Rafael and Philippe, two men with mental handicaps. This simple gesture marked the beginning of the L’Arche communities of people with disabilities living together with the help of assistants.
Vanier was the son of a Governor General of Canada, had served in the Royal Navy, and had obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy. But inspired by Father Thomas Philippe, O.P., he welcomed two men to share his house.
It started a movement which embraces people throughout the world.
In The Broken Body, Jean Vanier explains the spirituality behind these communities:
Christians have always proclaimed
the need to serve the poor,
to do things that will help them
rise out of their misery.
But what we are discovering at l’Arche
is that those who are poor possess a precious gift
and that we must listen to them with deep respect.
They have a gift for others.
We are discovering too
that the life-giving Jesus is hidden in them.
He is truly there.
If you become a friend of the poor,
you become a friend of Jesus.
I do not work with people with mental and physical disabilities, though I make it a point to greet them when I meet them in the villages. But Vanier’s spirituality inspires me and keeps me centered.
I hope and pray that I can really be a friend of the poor as Jean Vanier is.