Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier

May 30, 2016

TORONTO - The inspiration and wisdom of L'Arche founder Jean Vanier teaches us not only how to become more human, but also how to be people of faith in a world wary of religion, says author and academic Michael Higgins.

Higgins describes his 110-page biography as a brief introduction to the life of one of the last century's most influential writers and thinkers, and "a spiritual mentor to millions irrespective of religion."

Higgins spoke to about 100 people present for the Toronto launch of his new biography of the founder of the L'Arche movement.

Published in Canada by Novalis, Jean Vanier, Logician of the Heart has seen record-breaking pre-publication orders pour into its American publisher, Liturgical Press.

"I have no illusions that this has anything to do with the author," said Higgins. "It's all about the subject."

Vanier, who turns 88 this year, founded the worldwide L'Arche community in 1964 for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. Founded in Trosly-Breuil, France, it has spread to more than 35 nations worldwide, with a number of communities across Canada.

Higgins asks how it is possible for Vanier to take strong, uncompromising and unpopular positions against medically assisted suicide in Canada and against last year's "Je Suis Charlie" protests in France.

(After the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's Paris office was attacked by Islamic gunmen who killed 12 of its staff, Vanier publicly opposed protests that gave blanket approval to the magazine's constant denigration of religion in general and Islam in particular.)

Higgins' answer is that Vanier knows how to state his case positively and in Christian charity.

"He shows us how you state your case without eviscerating, vilifying or diminishing those who hold other positions," Higgins said.

The Vanier method of argument humanizes and ennobles everyone, he said.

"Here is a religious figure for whom the secular can find something admirable," said Higgins.

Vanier has authored numerous books and has been honoured with the Order of Canada, the French Legion of Honour, the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award and the Templeton Prize.

He is the son of Georges and Pauline Vanier and was born in Geneva while his father was on diplomatic service for the Canadian government in Switzerland.