The Church in the 21st Century Center held an event on Wednesday to commemorate L’Arche Boston North, a community that supports people with intellectual disabilities. Contemporary theologian and humanitarian Jean Vanier presented video messages made specifically for Boston College to an audience of both L’Arche community members and theology faculty and students.
In his messages, Vanier spoke of the process of founding L’Arche and the ideals that drove him to start the organization. Overarching themes present in his stories were those of love and compassion for others: the foundational principles of the L’Arche community.
Vanier spoke of inspiration coming from his time at Friendship House, an interracial Catholic association, in New York and the work of psychologist Wolf Wolfensberger. These influences led him to take action when he saw the horrible conditions in which people with mental disabilities in Paris were living in the 1960s. Vanier began the first L’Arche community with the help of psychiatrists and priests when he moved into a house near Paris with three men from a nearby institution.
“I knew that I’d found home, and I knew that what I was doing was for Jesus,” Vanier said, recalling his first days living in the L’Arche community.
The videos showcased the compassion and deep care that drive the L’Arche communities. At one point, Vanier quoted a man who was a victim of overdose, who he said changed his ideology toward compassion.
“They always wanted to change me, but no one wanted to meet me,” he said.
Vanessa Henry, community coordinator for L’Arche Boston North, said that she was also touched by what this man had said. Seeing behavioral change in core members at L’Arche, she said, is not so much the community’s principle as is loving them for who they are.
“That’s so relevant to what we do in L’Arche,” Henry said. “We need to be meeting people instead of just seeking to change them.”
Featured Image Courtesy of the Church in the 21st Century Center