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Letters from Jean

Jean laughing in front of birthday cake

90 years old! My God, I can scarcely believe it. I have such a desire to shout out my thanks! First, to God who is at the source of my life. I have been a poor, little child of God since the first moment of my life, secret and hidden in the womb of my mother. It was the moment of my primal innocence before all my reactions of fear, of aggression and especially of guilt, which are born when this primal innocence is wounded.

Spring flowers

In my previous letters, I have often shared my wonder for the birds, but this time I am going to speak to you about the flowers. Now, in early May, we have the sun and nice weather. Every day, I take a walk in my little garden, with my eyes looking down because I have to be careful where I walk: this means I notice the primroses. They were already there in December, but now it’s a real festival of primroses. Imagine all the colours of the rainbow.

Jean with friends

Since November 10, I have been back in my little house next to La Ferme, by the L’Arche community chapel in Trosly. I admit that I am happy, my life is quiet and physically I am well, despite great tiredness. As my heart remains weak, I am waiting for it to grow stronger.

Diocesan house

On Friday, October 13, I had a heart attack and was quickly taken to Emergency in an ambulance whose siren cleared the road to the hospital in Compiègne. Tests revealed that the main artery feeding my heart was clogged up. This required a surgeon to place a stent in the blocked artery. After surgery, a deep weariness descended. I need serious rest. This is why I have been brought to a very special resting place!

Jean at the monastery of Orval

I’m back at the monastery of Orval where I have been coming each August for 32 years now. The swallows are still at work, singing, flying and crying their sheer joy at being alive. Each year in the spring, they arrive from Africa, leaving again in the autumn, having made their nests and nurtured their young within the walls of the monastery. I confess that I am happy here.

Walking by the sea

Here we are on the road to Easter, the feast of rebirth. It is also springtime here, though of course in the southern hemisphere, winter is coming. At my home in Trosly, what joy it is to see the first daisies and primroses appearing, the leaves on the trees a green so tender and soft, and the birds beginning to sing!

Young people at Taizé
After the “Peace” retreat at the end of July, I headed off to rest at the monastery at Orval, where I have spent my summer holidays for nearly 30 years. It was a peaceful and relaxing time, with walks in the forest and above all, time to stay close to Jesus, especially through the Daily Office with the monks, which always nourishes me.
Jean out walking

People often tell me that time passes more quickly when you are older. I can confirm that! It seems to me that just yesterday it was April 1st, and yet suddenly the month is already over. Where has this time gone? I am having difficulty believing that I am already 87 years old. I am in good health and my mind is working well despite the odd hole when I search for a word! My legs need half an hour to an hour of exercise each day.

Christmas tree ornament

In mid-December, I was in Bethlehem. It was an immense joy to find that since my last visit there, three years ago, our community has grown – a joy again to meet Kathy, Mahera, Amira, Haythem, Sara, each one. The community is now located in a large house close to the Basilica of the Nativity. A beautiful community, exploding with joy, even though the situation in the country remains very difficult.

Jean at the Abbey
Once again, the moment for my annual stay at the Abbey of Orval (Belgium) has come round: the singing of the monks brings me peace and lifts me up to the heaven in them and in me; I rediscover the swallows back from Africa, dancing and diving into the pond outside the church; I feel renewed by times of prayer, a joy-filled space with restful thanksgiving to God; walks in the forest on legs that sometimes wobble a little…
Meeting in Paris
So many of you wrote me for my birthday, and also to wish me great joy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of L’Arche, a peaceful feast of the birth of Jesus and a Happy New Year. Unfortunately, I cannot answer you individually, but I would like to speak to each of you in a personal way through this letter, even if it is a circular. I feel at one with you and in prayer I give thanks with you for all that God gives us.
Thérèse and Benedict
So many of you wrote to me when my brother Benedict died, and again when my sister Thérèse died a month later. Thank you, thank you, for your love, your kindness and compassion. What touched me was the immensity of our large family spread over the world. Those who had been held in the love and godly wisdom of Benedict, those who have been close to Thérèse with her very wise competence, her gentle love and her beautiful sense of humour and laughter.
Jean Vanier and Pope Francis
In a world where there is so much suffering,
I want to live each day,
yes, each day,
in thanksgiving,
giving thanks to God, because life is so beautiful.
Jean Vanier at Berck
Here is the letter which I wrote, at the request of the Catholic newspaper La Croix (The Cross), to Christian friends of the Middle East. Here in France we live Christmas in peace, but there are so many who are living Christmas in war and suffering. I send you this letter so that we can pray together for them and for each other.
Jean with Faith and Light
When we arrived here at Orval (Odile drove me) there were no swallows. I expect they were waiting somewhere between Africa and here for a bit of warm air. And then without warning they zoomed in… and now they are dancing around the clock tower, swirling around in the air, diving towards the pond, dipping in and taking up a gulp of refreshing water and then darting off into the air, whizzing around, nearly bumping into each other.
Trees in bloom
You will not believe it: for three whole days, I am taking a break by the beach at Berck. Odile drove 200 km from Trosly to get me here. The Little Sisters of Jesus have found a small house close to their fraternity, not far from the sea and Berck’s huge beaches.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of hope. Christmas is a light at the end of some long tunnels. Two thousand years ago, in Bethlehem, the angels announced the great news, news of joy for all the people: the birth of a saviour, Jesus, whose name means, “God saves.”
Faith and Light pilgrimage
A year is ending, another is starting up. The month of August falls between the two: it is for God, for prayer and reading, rest and walks in the forest. This does not mean that the other months are not for God. They are, but in a different way: in the others, it is about finding him in the everyday encounters with people with whom I have now been living for 48 years.