02 September 2012

Jean Vanier on hospitality

While posting the link Misyononline link for today's Sunday Reflections on Facebook I saw there a link to a new video by Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche and co-founder with Marie-Hélène Mathieu of Faith and Light. He is speaking to a young fellow-Canadian, Maya Pot, a fifth-grader, about hospitality, which I had also focused on in Sunday Reflections, where a Filipino seminarian told me about the experience of hospitality that he had when he went to visit some workers from Kerala, India, living in an overcrowded labour camp in Dubai.

Marie-Hélène Mathieu

I've since discovered that Jean speaks to Maya in a number of short videos on hospitality, each directed to a different group. The one above is for parents. He speaks to teachers (below), to senior elementary students here, to junior elementary students here and to secondary students here. The videos were produced by L'Arche Canada and are meant primarily for use in schools.

Jean Vanier can speak with the great authority of personal witness on hospitality. He didn't set out to start a movement, L'Arche, that would spread to 40 countries. Father, in 1964 he, a professor of philosophy and a former officer in the Royal Canadian Navy, invited two men with intellectual disabilities to live with him in France, as the L'Arche International website describes: L’Arche International has its roots in the foundation of the first L’Arche community in 1964 in Trosly-Breuil, a village north of Paris. Following the suggestion of his mentor Father Thomas Philippe, a Dominican priest, Jean Vanier, son of a former Governor General of Canada, decided to invite Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux to live with him in a small house which he named L’Arche, the French word for the Ark.

I have been deeply influenced by Jean Vanier since I first read about him in the early 1970s. I made two retreats under him in the Philippines, in Cebu City in 1991 and in Manila five years later. I also took part in the international Faith and Light pilgrimage to Lourdes in Holy Week 2001, travelling with pilgrims from the north of England - I was based in Britain at the time - but as chaplain to the small contingent from the Philippines.

Two things in particular have always struck me about Jean, one very apparent in these videos. That is how he speaks so naturally about Jesus as someone he really knows. The other, not noticeable in these videos but very clear in talks I have heard him giving, is that he speaks about individuals by name.

I was blessed with parents who enabled me to develop the talents God gave me, who were clear in how they taught me discipline - by example and by trust, with only the occasional scolding. I once met a girl of 15 or 16 here in the Philippines who clearly was seeking attention. This was during a retreat. When she came to see me she burst into floods of tears and said, My parents give me everything I ask for. But they never ask me how I did in school today - and they never even scold me.

I was blessed too with good teachers, some of whom were true mentors. A good mentor is a lifelong blessing. A teacher or parent who is a tormentor is a lifelong burden for some.

'The clouds parted and Your light, oh Lord, shone down upon us.'

The emblem of Faith and Light, painted in 1971 by Meb, a man with an intellectual disability.

Facebook of Faith and Light. Facebook of L'Arche International.

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