JERUSALEM – On Tuesday, May 7, 2019, Jean Vanier passed away in Paris at the age of 90. He was the founder of L’Arche Federation and communities, spread today in 38 countries, which help people with intellectual and physical disabilities to integrate into society.
What many do not know is the deep friendship that was formed decades ago between Jean Vanier and Latin Patriarchate priest Fr. Rafiq Khoury. Fr. Rafiq agreed to speak with the Media Office of the Patriarchate about this man who was a witness to God’s love to today’s fragile and wounded humanity.
Fr. Rafiq, you had a deep friendship with the late Jean Vanier. Could you tell us about the first time that you met him? How could you describe it?
I had known Jean Vanier before I met him, through his writings, which were a subject of reflection for me. The first time that I met him was during one of his visits to the Holy Land in the early 80s. It was at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Bethlehem, where he gave a lecture for which I provided simultaneous interpretation. During the lecture, I felt strongly that a deep communion was formed between us, for his words affected me deeply.
After that, and still in the early 80s, Jean Vanier with a group of disabled people and assistants came on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. At the time I was the rector of the Latin Patriarchal Seminary in Beit Jala, and there we hosted them and spent a memorable evening. Since that time our friendship, which I consider as one of God’s gift to me, grew stronger. When he was in the last year of his sickness, he sent me a short message in which he said: “I pray often for you. I feel closer to you with all that you and your people live”.
What is one quality that distinguished the late Jean Vanier?
I believe that Jean Vanier introduced a fundamental value in contemporary culture, namely compassion. In a cruel and unmerciful world, he sowed values of compassion, mercy and love. He used to live and express this compassion with all his being. It might be true that Jean studied philosophy at the start of his life, but he cultivated this compassion through living with the disabled, because he decided to leave everything and get involved in their daily lives.
He was convinced that the disabled did not only take but also give in return. He entered in their deep consciousness and released their capacities, especially the capacity of love. At the same time, the disabled helped him to break free gradually from selfishness, ego and power want, which were replaced by empathy, compassion, self-giving and gratuity. Jean was a witness to God’s love towards today’s fragile and wounded humanity.
Jean Vanier was the founder of L’Arche Federation and communities, spread today in 38 countries, which help people with intellectual and physical disabilities to integrate into society. What mark did Jean Vanier leave on the life of the people he met?
Jean Vanier did not only work for the disabled, but he lived and shared their daily lives in all its aspects, and this is what distinguishes his work. In this community life, he used to give but at the same time he was enriched by this daily encounter with the disabled. This is how L’Arche communities live around the world. The assistants become a part of the daily lives of the disabled in all its aspects (prayer, work, eating, feasts, joy…etc.)
Jean wrote many books about his life experience with the disabled, some of which were translated into Arabic like “Be not afraid” and others. Lebanese author Adib Mousleh compiled a large collection of his writings in one book entitled “Jean Vanier and his ark”.
Jean left a big impact on everyone he encountered because he had authentic Christian and human values. I believe that Jean will live on in the hearts of those who knew and loved him.
Interview conducted by Saher Kawas