By Sergio Centofanti
Jean Vanier, 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 March 21, 2014, calling him a man of smiles and encounter.
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.
The words of Jean Vanier: the disabled, great witnesses of God
"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.”
People with disabilities lead us to 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!”
Whoever has compassion for the other is similar to Jesus
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.”
The Gospel of Joy
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.”