Kindred Spirits

Jim Wallis: We're very happy to have you with us, Jean. We feel a kindred spirit with you and l'Arche, and you're often in our thoughts and prayers. Could you tell us what you feel is at the heart of l'Arche and what are some of the struggles your community faces?

Jean Vanier: It's good to be here. I have followed you from far away through your magazine. It demands a lot of energy to be creative in the struggle for bringing things together. Keep going. We need you.

We have now 70 l'Arche communities. In all of our communities, the people with handicaps are really at the heart. They are a real gift. They evangelize us. They change us. They call us forth. They call us to humanity They teach us how to celebrate. But there are always struggles. One is the struggle to live our community life. I don't think we can live without Jesus. I don't think we can see the value of the wounded person unless we are in the dynamics of the gospels, the Beatitudes—blessed are the poor.

So how do we find the right spiritual support? That is a big institution for a lot of our communities. Where do we find the spiritual nourishment?

We could get very caught up in the busyness of doing things, in the crises in the homes, in working with psychiatrists and psychologists. We could get caught up in all this and forget the real reason why we're there—which is to somehow create community with the person who is handicapped, to create a body. That's what community is—a body in which the handicapped person is the most important. So there's the question of spiritual nurturing, and the answer is not entirely clear.

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