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At 88, Jean Vanier is truly the scion in winter. The child of two of Canada's most remarkable figures, Georges and Pauline Vanier, he used the manifold spiritual and intellectual gifts they bequeathed him to develop the global L'Arche community, first in Trosly-Breuil France and then, over the course of 53 years, in 147 centres spanning 37 countries.
By growing L'Arche from one local community to a global movement dedicated to the flourishing of people with developmental difficulties, he is a scion, too in the word's sense of a young shoot or plant set aside to be grafted onto something beyond itself, and in turn to create something new, fresh, vital, transformed.
In late 2016, he welcomed to the L'Arche community in Trosly-Breuil a camera crew and representatives of Cardus for the purpose of taping a best-wishes message for Canada's imminent 150th birthday. But as those who watch the following video clips will see, his thoughts were, as always, fixed not so much on the calendar as on the eternal effort of human beings to co-exist in peace and flourish in love. Indeed, while he was warmth personified in his wishes for this country's sesquicentennial, he gently cautioned Canadians to mark the special anniversary of Confederation "not just as citizens of the same country, but as brothers and sister in humanity."
Eradicate the Seeds of Hate
Before Jean Vanier was 20, he was taken by his mother, Pauline, to assist the survivors of recently liberated Nazi concentration camps. Not surprisingly, the work left an indelible mark on him as a witness to what human beings can do to each other, but also as one able to testify to how human beings can transcend fear, hatred, violence and meet each other face to face. "Get rid of the little seeds of hate for another person," he urges. "We can only discover what our humanity is when we meet the different."
People of Different Faiths Have Something to Teach Me
As a Catholic philosopher and theologian who has written 30 books, travelled extensively, and won innumerable awards, including the 2015 Templeton Prize, Jean Vanier is intimately familiar with the vocabulary of ecumenism, inter-faith, multi-faith and synergism. Yet he chooses the plain-spun language of "meeting" and "listening" to speak about the significance of different religions finding common understanding. "Others may have something to teach me. They are beautiful people," he says.
How To Lose Power
Because Vanier has spent his adult life attending the needs of the marginal, the neglected, the suffering, those deemed socially unworthy, it's understandable that a note of frustration, or at least bewilderment, creeps into his voice when he articulates the drive to dominate as a means of proving individual success and worth. It is, he says, an "all mucked up" way of being in the world. What matters are relationships. What matters is meeting another person as a human being. "A meeting implies I'm not better than you, you're not better than me....It is a place of revelation."
A Sesquincentennial Message
Though he has lived in France for many years, and elsewhere in Europe before that, Jean Vanier remains as Canadian as delight at winter giving way to a new spring. His parents had a powerful impact on Canada's emergence as a mature and independent country, and so it was natural for him to join in, even across the Atlantic, in the joyfulness surrounding the country's 150th birthday party. But that joy, he reminded his fellow Canadians, comes from encountering each other with love. "Joy is when we meet people - not above them, not below them, but as children of God."