Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 27, 2009
L'Arche teaches newcomer the value of welcome
Mentally handicapped communicate well, even without words, she says
WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Carmel Hunt says she learned to be more welcoming from L'Arche core member Cecile.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON – Twenty-two years as a member of Edmonton’s L’Arche community have taught Carmel Hunt that people come first and work should come second.
The mentally handicapped people who are the core members of L’Arche are “people who don’t necessarily use words to communicate but who communicate really well,” Hunt said at an April 11 prayer breakfast put on by the Catholic charismatic renewal.
Cecile was the first core member in L’Arche who Hunt met when she arrived in Sherwood Park from Ireland in 1986.
“Cecile taught me the gift of welcome,” she said. When people came to visit, Cecile ensured that everything else was put aside and the table was set for tea.
“There were all sorts of things to be done, but gosh, we had to have tea again!”
MAKE VISITORS WELCOME
Cecile is able to animate conversations in her own way and she ensures that all visitors are made to feel welcome, Hunt said. “Life can be really superficial if we’re all going in different directions.”
Hunt was the youngest of nine children raised in “a traditional Irish Catholic family.” At age 24, she had a good job and was set for life.
But then one of her brothers-in-law died of cancer and another was killed in a car crash.
The tragedies caused her to examine the direction of her life. She decided to spend one year with the Frontier Apostolate, an organization that served the Church in the Prince George Diocese, and then a second year teaching in Kenya.
The Prince George opportunity fell through and she came to Edmonton when she heard the L’Arche community here was in need of assistants.
BEING WITH PEOPLE
Hunt knew she could run the L’Arche home “with my eyes closed.” But experience soon taught her “It was not about work, but about being with people.
“I wasn’t called to do anything. The call that was given to me in L’Arche was to be present, to be faithful and just to be with people.”
Being in a true relationship with others meant that she had to reveal important things about herself, she recalled. It meant being vulnerable and honest and true to herself.
“Twenty-two years later, I’m still learning.”
Carmel met her future husband Chuck in L’Arche and today they have two teenage daughters. She remains involved in the community doing formation and training of the assistants who live with the core members.
“I stayed after my first year. I stayed because of Cecile,” she said.
LAUNCHED IN 1972
When L’Arche began in Sherwood Park in 1972, most of the core members were mentally handicapped people who had previously lived in Michener Centre, a large institution in Red Deer.
“In 1972, it was pretty revolutionary to have (mentally handicapped) people living in houses in the city.”
Many of those who had come from Michener Centre were not pleased with the new arrangement, she said.
They had learned to function in the institution and now L’Arche was altering their lives.
One of those was Henry. His way of getting what he wanted was simply to agree with the people who had power, Hunt said. He would never stand up for himself.
But last year, Henry finally said “no” when changes were being suggested with which he disagreed.
“That was a huge thing for Henry,” she said. “When somebody finally finds their voice, how beautiful that is.”