Jean Vanier, an eminent doctor of philosophy and professor at the University of Toronto, was shocked almost 53 years ago, when he visited the facility where people with mental disabilities were accommodated in Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux, southern part of Paris.
Starved of love
The conditions in which these people lived, were far from the dignity that belongs to every human being. But what shook Jean the most, was the realization how much they yearned for human touch, starved of love, acceptance and approval.
Raphael and Philippe
Two people in this institution particularly attracted his attention: Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux.
In 1964, he made a decision, which later on changed the lives of thousands of mentally challenged people and all others who have decided to live together with them.
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In the French village of Trosly-Breuil, he bought a house and invited Raphael and Philippe to live with him in a simple but dignified, qualitative life.
He named his little community as l’Arche (Ark), following the example of a biblical figure of Noah.
The world opened up
Shortly after moving in, visitors, mainly young French people, started flocking in and some even opened their own households to live together with disabled people. These people were indeed longing for a warm shelter and a human touch.
Let the numbers speak for themselves…
Jean probably never suspected that not long afterwards a large international network of communities was established where people with disorders shared their lives with their assistants.
Today, there are 147 such communities located on five different continents. In total, they consist of more than 5000 members!
Perhaps the greatest contribution of Vanier’s decision was giving a lot of people the opportunity to become equivalent with ‘normal’ people, as they were many times (and truth to be told in many places they still are today) very neglected and pushed aside to the very margin of society.
Furthermore, Jean was always repeating that these people are at the centre of each community and can be our great teachers of life.
A different view of life
From my own experience, I can say that life in an Ark community is a great school, which can bring a breath of fresh air in ones life and transforms his views of life, work, relationships, spirituality and God.
People who are usually prone to perfection, can learn to ‘let go’ things out of their hands. They learn that life can also be beautiful, even efficient and rich without full control and secure predictability.
A new Christian is born
I believe that similar to the Ark community, which stemmed from pain and weakness, our church nowadays has to step down and start from the point where the man is only a man, the most helpless, dependent, vulnerable, weak and sinful.
The new Christian in my opinion is a person who realizes his weakness and accepts it. Someone, who is perceiving a sanctity as a path through failures and not the opposite, although the world wants us to believe that only power, youth and independence are important.
God is working!
Silva and me are thus currently floating on an Ark. For us, this is a great opportunity to enjoy Vanier’s philosophy and spirituality Ark’s way.
It is also an excellent opportunity to testify about how God is working in this community. This is our main mission operandi – testify about what God is doing in our lives:
Dio sta operando: God works
Next few posts will therefore be related to the Ark. We will write about how we live here, what we’re doing, but also about people with disabilities and their assistants, who are hosting us.
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In addition, we opened up a new ‘Piggy Bank’, which will be collecting your donations for the community in the next two and a half months, as long as we are expected to stay here (see the button below the article).
Your help is much needed!
As we managed to find out, the community finds itself in a situation where additional funds are very much needed. The government’s contributions are unfortunately low and people’ donations have rather dried up in times of crisis as well.
You are all cordially invited to work together with us and make some donation for the people with intellectual disabilities and their assistants, who work together to create this friendly and loving family.
If you have any question, comment, thought or idea, of course you are invited to post it under this article.