Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 14, 2003
'Don't see a label' - Jean Vanier
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
At age 75, Jean Vanier - the Canadian-born founder of L'Arche, an international network of communities for people with developmental disabilities - continues to be a beacon of hope for society's most vulnerable people.
"God has chosen the weak and the foolish of this world to confound the so-called wise people, the clever people and the powerful people," he said to an audience that included many of the handicapped of the Ottawa area. "God has chosen those who are the most despised to confound people who think they are somebody."
Vanier, the son of former Gov. Gen. Georges Vanier and his wife, Pauline, delivered five addresses during a fundraising visit to Ottawa June 27-29 in support of the nine L'Arche communities in Ontario.
Those attending, many of them with mental disabilities, took part in the event which included prayer, a concert, a play and a foot-washing ceremony to demonstrate the need to take literally Christ's message to serve the poor.
"There is too much fear," he says. "We are too frightened with each other because maybe if we get close to each other I'll lose some sense of my identity and my function, my power. I need help to be fully a human person."
Almost 40 years ago Vanier, a former naval officer who became a professor of philosophy, gave up a promising career to live with "people of handicaps" in a small community home he opened near Paris, France. It has since grown to more than 100 communities world wide including 26 in Canada.
To Vanier, community is vital. "To live community to live family, to live with people who are sometimes difficult - behaviour disorders, psychological disorders - I need help," he says. "We need each other, we need community, we need help, we need Jesus."
In his talk at Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, Vanier urged his many listeners to "Learn to love as Jesus loves. Learn to see people as God sees them, to see people with disabilities as God sees them, not as people to be pushed away and put aside but how God sees them."
Wearing a light summer jacket, which has become his trademark, Vanier said people need to see the person before the label. "Every person is a child of God," he said. "Don't see the label. See the person and a child of God."
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