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The 2007 Middle East Festival Lecture with Jean Vanier Print E-mail

Jean Vanier PictureTitle: ‘Spirituality and the Civilisation of Love.’
Welcome by Councillor Rev Ewan Aitken, Council Leader, The City of Edinburgh Council.
Chair: Rev Prof Frank Whaling.
Hosts: Jointly hosted by The Middle East Festival, L’Arche, Faith and Light and The City of Edinburgh Council.
Venue: Usher Hall, Lothian Road, Edinburgh.
Date: Thursday 1 March 2007.
Time: 7pm-9.30pm. Doors open at 6pm.
Cost: £9/£7 (Concessions).
Contact: Usher Hall Box Office, 0131 228 1155, or online at

Event Description: Referring to Jean Vanier’s work in creating L'Arche, Pope John Paul II stated, ‘Over the past 30 years L'Arche has grown to become a dynamic and providential sign of the civilization of love.’

Jean Vanier, considered by many as one of the spiritual giants of our time, is one of today’s leading spiritual writers – author of ‘The Broken Body,’ ‘Becoming Human’ and ‘Befriending the Stranger,’ among many others.

Jean Vanier invites us to consider how each of us might enter into a Civilisation of Love, by first establishing peace within our own hearts. He will be joined in communicating something of the experience of creating communities of peace by members of both Faith and Light and L’Arche, with music led by John Coleman, member of L’Arche Tasmania and composer of works including ‘Revealing the Holy’ and ‘Slow Action of Love.’

Jean Vanier – Life, L’Arche and Faith and Light

Jean Vanier is a man marked out by personal holiness and by the amazing flowering of his work of caring for people with disabilities in the movements of L’Arche and Faith and Light, providing a unique model of inclusive communities which is underpinned by a profound spirituality and theology about which Vanier has written extensively.

One of the five children of the onetime Governor General of Canada, Georges Vanier and his wife Pauline, Jean Vanier’s early life had led from his teen-aged admission to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, in 1941, terms of service in both the British and Canadian Navies, to a Doctorate awarded by L’Institute Catholique de Paris, for his thesis concerning Aristotle.

During this period of academic life, in 1964, through his friendship with a Dominican priest – Father Thomas Phillipe – Jean was introduced to the suffering of the many thousands of people with learning disabilities, invisible within societies where they had been institutionalised and marginalised.  Jean experienced God calling him to take the ‘irreversible step’ of entering a deeper commitment with two such men with learning disabilities, who had become his friends – Raphael Simi and Phillip Seux – inviting them to leave the institution in which they resided and to join him, sharing life together in a real home. Together they named their home ‘L’Arche’; French for ‘the ark’ – a reference to Noah’s Ark.

Following the example of this original community in Trosly Breuil, France, 130 other communities have been founded world-wide, in every continent.  This international family of faith-based communities, welcoming people of all faith traditions and those who claim none, comprises communities founded in many diverse cultures, reflecting the specific ethno-religious compositions of their locales, yet sharing one common vision – the bringing together of people with learning disabilities and those assistants who come to join them in living, working and creating homes together; recognising one another’s unique value and gifts; a sign of unity in a divided world.

In 1968, continuing in his belief that meaningful relationships nurtured in community can be a means towards re-shaping the world we live in, Jean, with Marie-Helene Matthieu, together responding to the story of one couple’s experience of their sons’ – Loic’s and Thaddee’s – exclusion from a Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, co-founded Faith and Light.

Like its sister movement, L’Arche, Faith and Light has become an international community network.  It brings together people with learning disabilities, their families, their carers and their friends – particularly young people.  Each locally-based non-residential community meets regularly; gathering together to pray, to share and to celebrate together – valuing, above all, the importance of making a space to listen to the experience of those consigned to the margins of contemporary society.

Jean is the recipient of many honours and awards, recognising his leadership as a social visionary.  Among these are the Companion of the Order of Canada; the Pope Paul IV International Prize; the Rabbi Gunther Plant Humanitarian Award and the International Peace Award (Community of Christ).  He continues to travel world-wide, sharing from his experiences of life in community and advocating Jesus’ message of Peace and Love and as the friend of many who have experienced rejection and isolation: the imprisoned; the bereaved; the broken and of the many thousands of people with learning disabilities with whom he remains as a faithful member of L’Arche and Faith and Light, growing and learning together in those ‘schools of love.’

EICWS is a registered charity, number SC030155; Faith and Light is a registered charity, number FC009996; L’Arche is a registered charity, number 264166. See: www.eicws.org, www.vanieredinburgh2007.freewebspace.com, www.larche.org.uk, www.faithandlight.org.uk, www.larche.org.au

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