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Celebrating Jean Vanier at 90

By John Guido

Jean Vanier is 90. While he has made an extraordinary contribution to the human family over these nine decades, for us in L’Arche and for many others around the world, he will always be Jean, our teacher, guide, and companion in the journey. On his birthday, we wish to celebrate the very human man we know and love, our friend Jean.

Like many others, my journey with L’Arche began reading a book by Jean Vanier. I longed to live the vision described so powerfully in Community and Growth. I have been discovering and rediscovering it, over and over, in the more than 30 years I have lived in L’Arche – often helped by Jean’s words in his writings, retreats, interviews, and talks. Here are a few that stand out for me.

In the early 90s, my whole L’Arche home attended a retreat Jean led in San Diego. I invited my mother as we had recently lived the death of my sister then my father within an 18-month period. I thought this retreat might be helpful. It was as if Jean was speaking directly to her about loss, helplessness, and the power of the vulnerable person to give life.

In the late 1990s, I witnessed Jean become energized when leading a retreat for hundreds of young people in London, Ontario. The students were enthralled by stories told not only with compassion and wisdom, but also with humour – something Jean admits he discovered by sharing life in L’Arche. In the retreat closing, one of the students asked, “What do you do for fun?” Jean responded that his deep joy comes from walking with people through suffering and loss, moving to a deep communion. After he left, I quipped, “I bet you were expecting Jean to say he loved to watch a football match with a beer.” Even though Jean is not that kind of guy, the young people related to him because he is the real thing.

I was also privileged to attend the Gospel of John course in Trosly, two two-week sessions working through the text so dear to Jean’s heart. Despite health challenges, Jean came alive sharing with us as if passing on his legacy to his children. We were also immersed in Jean’s beloved community of L’Arche Trosly meeting some of the people he has lived with over the past 54 years who are his “greatest joy.”

Today, we celebrate Jean Vanier, a man of relationship and community, of deep faith in a God who longs for each of to be happy, to be fully alive, and in communion. We hope that Jean will continue to be blessed in all that lies before him. Godspeed, Jean.

L’Arche in Canada is celebrating Jean’s 90th birthday with “Jean and Me” an online scrapbook of photos and memories celebrating how Jean has touched our lives. To add your memories and photos, send them to communications@larche.ca by September 14th.


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