Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche (1964), a community which supports people with disabilities, died during the night, aged 90. The community is active all over the world with about 150 centres. Vanier had been suffering from cancer and was assisted at a L’Arche facility in Paris.
Pope Francis was informed of his death and the ad interim director of the Vatican Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, said the Pope “prays for him and for the whole L’Arche community”. Jean Vanier had met with Pope Francis on 21 March 2014, calling him a man of smiles and encounter.
Commenting on his death, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, said, “Rest in peace Jean Vanier and thank you for your inspiring, compassionate presence among us.”
Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe said, “Jean Vanier was a true inspiration, a pastoral and spiritual giant. God rest his noble soul”.
Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said, “On hearing of the death of Jean Vanier, I immediately thought of the L’Arche communities and the Faith and Light communities around the world that he so greatly inspired. I offer my condolences to them, knowing, however, that they will be full of gratitude for the great example Jean Vanier was for them. As a student in UCD, I myself was part of a group that helped in a retreat-mission Jean Vanier led in the College in 1978. I met him several times during that week and admired greatly his humility, wisdom and penetrating words. I met him briefly on other occasions over the years. His prophetic example, his untiring focus on helping us recognise the value of vulnerability and otherness and his constant underlining of the importance of community have always influenced me. We have much to learn from his life. I’m sure that in death he will have heard the Lord say to him, ‘well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord’.”
Born in Geneva on September 10, 1928, Vanier, a former officer in the Canadian Navy, also co-founded the movement “Foi et Lumiere” (Faith and Light) in 1971. He was a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and in 2015 received the Templeton Prize, one of the highest awards given every year to personalities from the religious world.
“Our mission – said Jean Vanier in an interview with Vatican Radio (see video below) – is to encounter a world of extreme weakness, poverty and suffering, people who have often been rejected… L’Arche is a place of reconciliation where people of very different religions and cultures can meet and this transforms the lives of people with disabilities, but also transforms the volunteers. L’Arche, after all, is a place of celebration where the aim is for everyone to be happy (…) We want to be a sign of the importance of people with disabilities, because they have a message to give, but few know it: they, in fact, were chosen to be the great witnesses of God.”
On the occasion of being awarded the Templeton Prize, again in an interview with Vatican Radio, Jean Vanier said: “This prize draws attention to people with disabilities, and this is important. In fact, the particular aspect of L’Arche, as well as Faith and Light, is the revelation that people with mental disabilities are super people!”
Jean Vanier recalled the importance of living together: “I believe strongly that today it is necessary to create communities that live the values of the Gospel: to live together, to live the Beatitudes and to discover that the life of the Beatitudes, the life of the Gospel can be lived very simply by living together. The message of the Gospel is to become men and women of compassion. If you become a man or a woman of compassion, you will be like Jesus.”
In another interview Jean Vanier emphasized the importance of joy: “I think the whole vision of evangelization is joyful, because we have received the Good News! The world is not only a world of violence, but the Word made flesh, God came to tell us something. God loves humanity, God is present. This does not mean that there is no struggle against evil. There is violence in the world; there is violence in me and in all of us. But Jesus is stronger and we keep the hope that He will help us.”