L'Arche founder Jean Vanier reflects on weakness and our need for community

Jean Vanier (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Trosly-Breuil, France — April this year marked the 50th anniversary of the L'Arche International community. The Los Angeles Catholic Worker's Catholic Agitator newspaper recently published an interview with Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche International, which forms communities with people with intellectual disabilities. Following are excerpts from that interview.

Catholic Agitator: How has your idea of community changed over time?

Jean Vanier: There have been a number of changes here. I would say, to begin with, we were a community very fixed to the Catholic church. Now, we have moved into interreligious ecumenical. What is clear to this community is that we are here so that people with disabilities can grow. They need to grow humanly, and spiritually. So there's been a slight shift in the sense that what has become all-important -- I don't say more important, but all-important -- is the place of people with disabilities, especially the weakest. And that we are there so as they can discover they are loved. It's not to do things, but to be with them.

So, the whole thing here is a polity of relationships; that they must discover that they are precious. So it's not doing for, it's relating with. And people come with their faith and, hopefully, their faith will give them the vision about how to love. ...

Little by little, we've become conscious that [L'Arche is] a school of love. And a school of love through relationships. And a relationship is a relationship of friendship -- becoming friends with the people. And we see that, as we become friends with people, they are transformed. And the assistants as well.

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A version of this story appeared in the Aug 29-Sept 11, 2014 print issue under the headline: Fifty years in 'a school of love' .

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