“It is Jean’s conviction that the work of peace starts in little, almost hidden ways.”
Bearer of Peace
Jean Vanier’s life has been profoundly marked by his encounters with the great peacemakers of the world, including Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.
By Jean-Louis Munn
Through his family, and in the course of the military and diplomatic career of his father, Georges Vanier, Jean came to know many of the most important people in this world: Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, Cardinal Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) were friends of the family, brought closer together by the circumstances of World War II.
This war marked Jean Vanier profoundly. He would one day visit Hiroshima in order to reflect on it. He would also be influenced all his life by those great men of peace, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Brazil, Jean Vanier would encounter Jean Goss and Hildegard Mayr, two remarkable people who were leaders of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. They introduced him to Dom Helder Camara, Bishop of Recife in northeastern Brazil, one of the poorest regions of the world. Wholly committed to the poorest of the poor, Camara was an outspoken critic of the ruling Brazilian dictatorship and a leading light in the struggle to defend human rights. Jean invited him to visit the L’Arche community in Trosly.
Later, thanks again to Hildegard Mayr, Jean Vanier met on several occasions with Adolfo Perez Esquivel. Following their first meeting at the Canadian embassy, Esquivel was kidnapped by the Dops movement, sadly known for their brutality and tortures. Esquivel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980. The pair would also play a key role in the events leading up to the 1986 revolution in the Philippines. During a visit there that year, Jean met Cory Aquino who, in the wake of the non-violent revolution of the people and the neutral stance taken by the armed forces, became president of the Philippines.
Jean was also close to Mother Teresa. After visiting her many times in India, Mother Teresa accepted his invitation to visit the L’Arche community in Trosly where he lives.
Jean Vanier also had a number of personal meetings with Pope John Paul II, who was particularly impressed by his work.
Jean-Louis Munn worked as a producer at Radio Canada and in the world of gymnastics before coming to L’Arche in 1981. He was Director of Communications at L’Arche Canada for many years.
Bearer of Hope in Ireland
By Ruth Patterson
Jean Vanier visited Ireland, North and South, many times during our thirty-year conflict in the North and its precarious aftermath. He was and continues to be a bearer of hope and encouragement in areas and situations of broken relationship and shattered trust. In the midst of conflict, through his presence and his words, he revealed to us that we were beautiful at a time when we found that hard to believe. In other words, he loved us.
The knowledge and acceptance of being loved is a major force in the nurturing of peace, as is the process and practice of forgiveness. Jean often says, “Community is founded on forgiveness and builds itself up through love.”
Faith & Friendship
In 1995, after a major conference in Northern Ireland which took place during the first ceasefire, and at which Jean was the main speaker, he suggested to us that we set up a little movement to encourage people to meet together across the religious divide and to share their faith in an atmosphere of friendship. This we did in 1997 and Faith & Friendship has been in existence ever since, currently numbering seven groups in different venues across the country. At monthly gatherings people listen to one another’s stories, build relationships, share on prepared scripture guidelines, discuss possible joint activities, and pray together.
It is Jean’s conviction that the work of peace starts in little, almost hidden ways – in units as small as the family. Faith & Friendship is such a little, hidden movement but, along with other ventures, is making a difference, being a bridge over some of the troubled waters of tension and mistrust that are obstacles to peace.
Part of the ethos of L’Arche is that the poor, the little and the broken of the world are God’s gift to us in that they reveal to us the truth about ourselves, namely that we are all poor and little and broken, but we are also all the beloved of Jesus. It has seemed to me that over years Ireland has been poor and little and broken and has a disability in that we never seem to learn from our history.
As we move forward in our peace process and, however stumblingly, take on board our belovedness, then I believe that we still have an opportunity to share with the world this truth – that the whole world is poor and little and broken, but also beloved. This awareness is where peace begins. Such awareness is Jean’s gift to the world as peacemaker.