Have you heard of L’Arche? I had not heard of it until I read about it recently in a book I picked up along the way: Why Good Things Happen To Good People By, Stephen Post, PhD and Jill Neimark. (2007)
Here there is a very pure love you don't experience in other places in society. Here you learn that innocence is beautiful, that the disabled can be like living prayers. a L'Arche assistant
One thing I have learned for sure is that a L’Arche Community is a community of pure love. L’Arche is French for “the ark,” a reference to the floating refuge Noah created at God’s command. It began in 1964 when Frenchman Jean Vanier opened his home to two developmentally disabled adults.
To work for community, is to work for humanity. founder of L'Arche, Jean Vanier
He had no grand plan. Vanier simply believed people of differing physical and mental abilities could live together, respecting the capabilities of one another. What began as an informal invitation from the heart has grown into the world-renowned International Federation of L’Arche Communities, a network of more than 6,000 individuals in 140 communities and 31 countries. There is even a L’Arche community in my hometown of Decatur, Georgia, which opened its doors in 2012. Born in Switzerland in 1928, Vanier is a devout Catholic, but these communities welcome all, regardless of their race, culture, abilities, or disabilities, as well as people of all faiths, including atheists. In each community, the healthy (called “assistants) and disabled live together.
When Jean Vanier was asked to share one of his most memorable L’Arche stories, this is what he said:
“I will never forget Eric, whom I met in a local psychiatric hospital where he had been abandoned since he was four years old. He was then a blind, deaf young man of 16 who was unable to walk or speak. I had never met anyone so filled with anguish. Even the nurses and helpers found him too difficult to be with. He came to our L’Arche community in 1978, and I had the privilege of living with him and a few others for a year: dressing him, bathing him, helping him to learn to feed himself. Little by little, he began to discover that he was loved and seen as a person, unique and important. He gradually grew more peaceful. During the evening prayer we had in our little home, he had changed, and I too had changed. Eric, above all, make me realize that each person is important no matter what their abilities, disabilities, religion, or culture.”
The whole pain of our world is the pain of walls. We've had enough of loneliness, independence, and competition. We all begin in weakness and end in weakness. We are all broken in some way. The only answer to life is to love each other.
Perhaps it is my personal experience of growing up with Robin, my first cousin who was born with Downs Syndrome, or perhaps it’s my own growing awareness of my weaknesses and brokenness, or maybe it was the example of compassion shown to me by my loving parents, but my heart is soft towards this ministry of L’Arche communities. I hope to visit L’Arche Atlanta, in Decatur in the not too far off future.
What do you think about the L’Arche concept? What are some other ways we can continue to break down the tall walls of discrimination that are based on race, culture, economic circumstances,religion, and/or disability?
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