05 March 2019, The Tablet

Jean Vanier: 'I felt I'd been called to follow Jesus, but how?'


The founder of L'Arche community spoke movingly to thousands of young people at Flame in London, 2019

Jean Vanier: 'I felt I'd been called to follow Jesus, but how?'

Jean Vanier addressed Flame by video link
Photo: Catenians

My father was in France during the war. When the Germans invaded Belgium and then France, we were in France and we became refugees and I felt something inside of me, a certainty that, and let’s get to England because I’d heard that …… naval courage of the young people, 13 years old. I wanted to join the Navy and obviously I had to speak to my father and he questioned me and he did everything he could to dissuade me because thankfully he knew the family, but the conversation ended with: “I trust you, if that’s what you want then you must do it."

So … everything begins with that, my dad trusted me when I was 17 years old. But I was asking to do something which … crazy. So, over to England from Canada, time in the Navy. But then the time came that I felt that somehow I’d been called to something else, I felt I’d been called to follow Jesus, but where and how?

And it was really in 1960 I began discovering the world and people with disabilities and they were locked up in institutions and they were pushed away, they were in drastic situations and somewhere inside of me I knew that Jesus was calling me to something, but where and how, but then it all sort of fell into place.

I visited an institution where people with disabilities, Down’s syndrome or other people who were just sort of, well the shame of their families … were pushed away into asylums and so on. So I visited and at the same time I tried to … I tried to because these are my brothers, human beings, and shocked because of the violence, the crime, everything I saw. So I was fortunate enough to have friends and was able to buy a small house in a small village and I was able to welcome two people Raphael, who’d had … when he was young, and then there was Philippe who’d had encephalitis … … Their parents had no longer lived and the leader of this institution said that … … So that was the beginning it, the whole story, living with two people who had been rejected, humiliated and terribly hurt in every way, just not wanted by their parents and not wanted by society … … … … … And it was super that Raphael and Philippe were so happy to find freedom and we lived together and did the cooking together and that was a mess.

But anyway, somewhere … … … coming home, and this was when you found out that … very blessed by Jesus and very blessed by the whole reality. We had such fun together. You know, people with mental disabilities, they’re not governed by normal things, there seems little … … creative. They’re super creative, they’re wonderful people, because what they want is what we all want, they want to be recognised, it’s important, they want to be seen as significant and seen as a person with value … to be loved … and maybe that’s what we all want. We each of us fear our story and we need to be loved, accepted, respected, just as we are.

And none of you are as old as I am, I’m now 90 and my life is … but your life is beginning and that’s super. I can’t say I would like to begin again, but that you are … and you can do beautiful things, that you could discover, that you have a secret with your … and that you can discover that someone can trust you. The Church or Jesus or your family, whatever, that somebody saved you. I believe that you are more beautiful than you dare believe.

Ellen Teague was at Flame 2019. Read her report of the event.

So I hope that you will find the secret of your life and discover how beautiful you are.

If you don’t want your parents to see you unhappy, if you’ve been angry recently, guess what to do with it and you want to be accepted, and you want to be seen as important and to succeed. So when you’re in a world of competition, publicity and all of it, what is important is power and money. These are the two … to have power to make more money and to have money to … … This is something very … and it’s part of our culture. What is important at school? Is it really just to succeed? It’s not is it? Yes it’s important, but isn’t it even more important to learn to accept people, others, as they are? Each one of you is unique to be accepted with your gifts, your qualities. Maybe you need also to win in sports and all the rest.

But ……… to feel crushed, put aside, humiliated. What strikes me is the number of people that feel humiliated, pushed aside, no good, because of sickness, because of all the reality of life they just didn’t succeed.

That means sometimes, during the day, to take a moment of interiority. Where is your dream, your deepest dream, listen to what is coming up from within you, your dream, and maybe you could share this dream with others, dream with others, a little community of friends, and maybe in that dream, you’ve got someone, a priest, a friend, some wise person, who says, “Your dream is a beautiful dream, go ahead, I trust you, you can do beautiful things”.

So somewhere to discover your interiority, and in that interiority, to discover what I discovered when I was in the Navy, that Jesus wanted me to be with him, to accompany Jesus and be accompanied by Jesus, to follow Jesus, to do something beautiful for our world, in our world where there are so many divisions, so many hatreds, so many broken things.

But maybe our world needs to find people a bit more perfect, who believe in themselves, who believe in human nature, who believe in Jesus who wants to work and cause us to work to be peacemakers. So I call you to find the secret of your own beauty, that you are more beautiful than you dare believe, that to love yourself, to be yourself, to listen to your dream and to also discover the dream of God, the dream of Jesus, that we should all be one and can love each other whatever our religion, whatever our culture and we can be people working for …, for peace. 

 

Sometimes people are felt unloved and unwanted and this is a dream of drugs and alcohol which will lead us away from ……… So happiness is to find an interiority, inner peace, to find your motivation, to find a sense of what it means to live. Happiness is to be in a path with others, together, acting …, working together to find that inner reality. We get upset when we have this tension, tension between what our dream and then the crushing of the dream, and the crushing of the dream ………………… However, happiness comes …… unity ……, unity inside my faith, unity … between my experience, unity that comes also when we find ways to stand and deserve …………… and to find the meaning of faith and to have friends and to find this good structure. So, ……………, advocacy comes as we find peace ……………… and you have friends and you have good advice.

 




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