Recognizing our shared humanity: A reflection on Jean Vanier

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Remembering Jean Vanier

Recognizing our shared humanity: A reflection on Jean Vanier

By Luca Badetti


Recognizing our common humanity is vital for encounter and dialogue to flourish. Someone who powerfully expressed this, through his presence, actions and words, is Jean Vanier, who died on May 7 at the age of 90.

Vanier was the founder of L’Arche — faith communities in which people with and without intellectual disabilities share life. 

L’Arche began in the 1960s when Vanier visited an institution in France in which people with disabilities lived. Touched by their human need for friendship, he invited two of them, Raphael and Philippe, to create a home with him. Together, they lived in the spirit of a Christian community, sharing meals, prayer, times of work and leisure. This inclusive vision inspired other L’Arche communities to develop around the world, welcoming people from different religious and cultural backgrounds. 

The encounter with people with intellectual disabilities, which Vanier lived and articulated, is also an encounter with humanity. Although so much social emphasis is put on intellectual ability, it is the
heart that is the centre of the human person, a reality that people who tend to “live in their heads” might easily forget. 

When we create community around values of the heart, such as acceptance, listening, respect, encouragement, and belonging, we can live our shared humanity inclusively in the midst of our differences. We can also have an experience of God, revealed in the Gospels as a vulnerable and marginalized Christ yearning for loving relationship.

Vanier’s vision reaches far and wide. Many communities of different faiths and with their own unique missions use his writings to nourish their community life. I imagine this will continue to be the case even in the future. As labels and ideologies increase social divisiveness, Vanier’s compelling witness is a reminder of the importance of encountering others and recognizing their preciousness and our shared humanity.

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