Communities of Faith and Light

In a plugged-in culture filled with loud athletes, self-promoting politicians, screaming musicians, and in-your-face screen stars, our world lost the soft gentle voice of a wise grace-filled peace maker, on May 7th, in the passing death of Jean Vanier. In 1945 Vanier’s father was the Canadian Ambassador in Paris, where they witnessed many atrocities of victims from the Second World War. His father became Canadian Governor General, Major General George Vanier, from 1959 – 1967. Jean Vanier signed up for the Royal Canadian Navy and felt a tug to change vocations. He was a devote follower of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition, who picked up a PHD in philosophy and studied and taught theology. In 1964 Jean Vanier left the high halls of academia, and began working with Father Thomas Phillip, who helped him become aware of 1000’s of institutionalized mentally and physically handicapped adults. Vanier invited two residents, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave their institutions and live with him in the village of Trosly-Breuil France. There he began what he called a “L’Arche community.” L’Arche, is the French word for “Ark.” Jean Vanier believed that physically and mentally handicapped adults were teachers in community, rather than liabilities and burdens on family. Vanier established 147 L’Arche communities in 37 different countries. Today there are over 1,500 Faith and Light communities in 80 different countries around the world. Vanier has written and published 30 different books in his life time. He received the Companion of the Order of Canada in 1986, the French Legion of Honor in 2003, The Community of Christ and International Peace award in 2003, the Pacem in Terrace Peace and Freedom Award in 2013 and the Templeton Prize in 2015. Pope Francis phoned Jean Vanier a week before he passed away and thanked him for his life of service and work in the church and around the world. I got to know of Jean Vanier through the life and work of Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who served in a L’Arche Community in Richmond Hill, just above Toronto. I will continue to look for and read his writings as Jean’s soft, gentle voice, continues to invite us to listen to teachers of our day who live on the fringe of our communities. Last week’s friendship service reminded me how we too are called to be a community of faith and light in our world.                                                                                                           Pastor Sid

Karin Terpstra