WHEN FATHER THOMAS PHILIPPE brought philosopher Jean Vanier on a tour of asylums, institutions, and psychiatric hospitals, Vanier discovered “a whole new world of marginalized people ... hidden away far from the rest of society, so that nobody could be reminded of their existence.” A year after this realization, recounted in The Heart of L’Arche, Vanier founded the first L’Arche community in his new home in France. Vanier shared meals, celebrations, and grievances with Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, two men who had lived in asylums ever since their parents passed away.
Vanier was inspired by life with these friends, and motivated by a new understanding of Luke 14:12-14: “‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”
In the words of Vanier, “L’Arche is a school of love.” It is a “family created and sustained by God,” and it is an embodiment of the belief that “each person is unique, precious, and sacred.” In practice, L’Arche is a global network of communities: People living with and without developmental disabilities sharing meals, prayers, work, and advocacy efforts.
Eileen, an artist and a member of the L’Arche community in the Washington, D.C. area, explained to Sojourners that through L’Arche she can explore museums, create and share art, cook and host a pork-chop dinner, or stay in and watch television with friends. She’s learned much over her decades with L’Arche and, she explained, “I teach people how to pray.”