I met Jean Vanier on my thirty-first birthday in Kolkata, India. I was attending an international L'Arche gathering and couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate. Given a choice, there is no one else I would have chosen to meet in that moment. I had worked as an assistant at L'Arche Ottawa while in university and later became involved with the board of directors of my local L'Arche community. There is something so special about what Jean started with L'Arche - the feeling is the same whether you are in Ottawa or India or anywhere else. Thank you Jean for your gift to us and congratulations on all you have accomplished!
I sent a copy of my new book, A NEW SONG, THE LAST YEARS OF CHRIS'S LIFE, to Jean Vanier. My son was a member of Faith & Life for 15 years and those parents had asked me to write a last book about my son's life and its value. I was surprised and honored to receive a note from Jean Vanier, in his handwriting, thanking me for my book and commenting on my son's value. Such a famous and inspirational person taking the time to write to me means so much! He touches our lives from afar. He is a blessing to so many!
I am a school teacher. My students are 10 or 11 years old. Tomorrow I will tell them about your live and work, as I have been doing now for a few years. I would like to thank you in their name.
My first exposure to Jean Vanier occurred at a Faith & Sharing Retreat in Victoria B.C. in 1983. It was for me, a transforming experience, one in which the words of the Gospel took on flesh and opened up a path in my life that I felt personally invited to follow. The mystery of the Gospel, the Mission of Jesus and the discovery that spiritual strength lay hidden in weakness, woundedness and rejection were revealed to me that week through the gently, yet probing words of Jean Vanier. “Who can believe? Who can believe this message?” he would cry out. I felt an inner urge to cry in return that “yes, I can believe but.....?” I believe the Holy Spirit, through the words of Jean, changed the direction of my life (and that of my family I dare say) - an experience of a true metanoia - a change of heart.I have lived long enough to reflect back over those now distant years and continue to give thanks for those five days in the late summer of ’83. In fact I believe a seed was planted then, a very small seed but very full of life’s potential. The seed was a vision, a vision of a treasure laying hidden in a field. The field was my everyday life and the lives of my close friends. And the treasure was L’Arche.From this initial “Inspiration” developed a journey, albeit a zig-zag one, one who’s lengthy destiny was to “bring L’Arche home to the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island.” March 16th of the Jubilee Year 2000, some seventeen years since Jean called out “Who can believe?”, saw the doors of Jubilee House swing open to warmly welcome our founding core member, a gentleman by the name of Cory Pagnoni, birthing us as a new Canadian Probationary Community. Indeed, a Treasure in a Field had been discovered as I quietly mumbled to myself, “Yes, I can believe.”
When I first heard Jean I was in high school. It was at Guelph, Ontario in the early 70's and heard him speak to a large audience. I felt after that first experience that my life would be forever changed. "Tears of Silence" became my companion and "that my joy gives joy" a deep refrain. A summer spent at Daybreak was the most freeing experience of my life. The gift of living with Gordie, Francis, Peggy, Bill and Billy and others helped me to learn that I was loved just the way I was. Jean visited and I remember him telling the group that the boundary between good and evil runs through the middle of each of our hearts. I could never express enough gratitude for the hope and faith in humanity that Jean has inspired in my life and in the lives of many of the people I know. It was through Faith and Sharing that I met my beloved husband, Joe. Thank you, Jean, for the gifts of wisdom, humour and compassion that you have so generously shared with the world and for helping us to learn how to walk in peace with our brothers and sisters. God bless you.
My heart found great tenderness, rest, peace and joy in the words and person of Jean Vanier as he pointed me to the deepest truth and need of living a life of love and compassion both for myself and to others through being a little friend of Jesus. Thank you Jean, your work and words and person have made a difference in my life.