Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 3, 2002
Change world 'one heart at a time,' says Vanier
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Jean Vanier, the 73-year-old founder of L'Arche, invited close to 2,000 people to "change the world one heart at a time," when he spoke at the Butterdome, U of A, May 16.
Love is what the world needs right now. But where do we find that love? Is our world condemned to a continual cycle of warfare and conflict? Where is peace, love? asked Vanier.
"The tendency that we all have is venting our anger upon the weak or pushing down the weak. In some ways we don't want (the weak) because of the fact that they are fragile and in need of help."
Often people think they need to do things or give things to the weak. "They do not need things. They need relationships."
What people need is to be loved but this love cannot be regulated by governments.
During his stay in Edmonton, Vanier facilitated a retreat for 246 people, aged 18 to 35, May 17-19 at Lister Hall, U of A.
He expressed his concern about an epidemic of depression and hopelessness in the world especially among youth.
"We are in a state of latent depression, a sense that we are not loved and that we have to prove ourselves. Sometimes the chaos within or the anguish within makes us feel we are like empty vases."
In 1964, Vanier invited two men with intellectual disabilities, Philippe and Raphael, to live with him in an old house in a village northeast of Paris.
Inspired by Jesus' Beatitudes, he acted on the radical idea that those the world would rather lock away have much to teach and can even heal others.
In his talk, Vanier, the son of former Gov. Gen. Georges Vanier, shared a story of an 11-year-old boy, who celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation.
The man who was uncle and godfather of the boy congratulated the mother and said how wonderful the Mass was. The only thing that was sad, he told her, was that her son, who had an intellectual disability, didn't understand anything.
The boy overheard the conversation and, with tears in his eyes, said: "Don't worry Mommy. Jesus loves me as I am. I don't have to be what my uncle wants me to be. I don't have to be what you want me to be. It's OK to be myself."
Vanier said, "That's the fundamental message of Jesus Christ. It's OK to discover how precious you are."
People with disabilities led Vanier to the truth of the Gospel message, to the truth of what it means to be human.
"They are prophets," Vanier said. But nobody wants to listen to prophets because they are always calling for change, for a new vision of humanity.
What Vanier discovered with Raphael and Philippe is the reality that each person is precious. "Whatever their abilities or disabilities, race, language, people are important."
It was not in helping these people that Vanier discovered what it means to be human, but rather in experiencing a loving relationship with them.
"To love is to reveal. To reveal is not to do things for the people. What do we reveal when we love someone? You're important. You're precious and you can do something beautiful for the world, for those who are imprisoned in their own fears, for those who do not see the beauty of the world."
Francis Harris, 34, attended the public talk and was inspired by Vanier's message.
"In our world today we need to hear more talks like this one. We need to hear from people who walk the talk and enough of those who are self-righteous, those who say one thing and do otherwise."
Lynda Keller, 47, said, "He truly is the Mother Teresa of people with disabilities."
"He is the voice of the people who are voiceless and there are so many lessons we can learn from him," Keller, who drove from Calgary to listen to Vanier, told the WCR.
Today, L'Arche has 120 communities around the world where people with developmental disabilities, volunteers and staff live together in homes. There are six L'Arche homes in the Edmonton area.aa