L'Arche Founder Tells Youths to "Learn from the Weak"

Jean Vanier Gives Catechesis at WYD

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TORONTO, JULY 26, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The founder of L’Arche Communities for the disabled urged World Youth Day participants to listen to «the teachings of the weak,» in a society characterized by a thirst for power and wealth.

Jean Vanier, 74, has seen L’Arche grow to 120 communities in 30 countries. People with mental disabilities live in these communities in a family atmosphere, with volunteers dedicated to their service.

The son of a former governor general of Canada, Vanier abandoned a brilliant career in the Canadian Navy to dedicate himself to philosophy.

He left the academic life in 1964 when he met two young men with severe mental disabilities who lived virtually abandoned in a public institution. Vanier took them into his home in Trosly-Breuil, on the outskirts of Paris. This was the beginning of L’Arche.

WYD organizers asked Vanier to give several catecheses in English, and a seminar in French on social services.

John Paul II was moved by the sight of L’Arche’s young men on Thursday, when the «Spirit Movers,» an artistic group of the mentally handicapped, performed a choreography.

«The weak say to us: ‘I need you.’ If they are heard, a community is created,» Vanier explained in his catechesis centered on the Beatitudes.

«The one who runs the greatest risk is the one who says he has no need of anyone,» he explained. «That man creates war and competition. However, to the degree that one recognizes ‘I am weak, I need you,’ we are willing to work together.»

«Are we willing to hear the weak one? This is the question. If we decide not to listen to him, then we continue living in division, in competition, in war. If we choose to receive him, then we build the future together,» Vanier stressed.

The mystery of the weak one is «very simple,» he added.

«He tells us that every man and woman is precious; that there is a hidden wealth in every person, and that this wealth simply wishes to express itself fully,» Vanier explained.

«Having lived for more than 40 years with people with disabilities, I have discovered — and this has been a revelation — that these people are not only precious from a human point of view; they also have a special nearness to God,» he insisted.

«Yes, I really believe there is a certain mystery in the poor, as God calls them. It is a mystery that is often forgotten. Everything depends, therefore, on the strength to believe that the poor one is really important,» Vanier concluded.

L’Arche Communities, and Faith and Light, a Catholic movement also founded by Vanier, have sent 500 participants to WYD. Of these, 200 will participate in the liturgical services and performances.

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