Pope John Paul II is a “sign of the glory of God,” said Jean Vanier.
The founder of L’Arche, an international federation of community houses for people with intellectual and physical disabilities, was in Montreal April 2 to receive the prestigious Gaudium et Spes Award from the Knights of Columbus.
The evening event was unexpectedly eclipsed by the death of Pope John Paul only a few hours earlier. All of the speakers that evening, who stood to pay tribute to Vanier, also took the time to pay tribute to the Pope.
Vanier, a longtime friend of the Pope, said he was shocked, saddened and very moved by the news of his death.
Upon receiving the award, he told the dinner crowd of about 300 Knights of Columbus and their wives at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel about his last meeting with the Pope in Lourdes Aug. 14-15.
There, Vanier said, he had the “privilege of meditating on the Luminous Mysteries in front of [the Pope]. And the third Luminous Mystery is the announcing of the kingdom. I said that the kingdom is for the poor. It’s the first beatitude: Blessed are the poor, theirs is the kingdom.
“And I said that looking at John Paul II in the eyes because he was just in front of me,” Vanier continued. “John Paul II, our Pope, is a sign of the glory of God because the glory of God is the manifestation of His presence in the weak. And John Paul II was in so many ways weak.”
In his thank-you address for the Gaudium et Spes Award, Vanier said: “I hear people saying: ‘You are doing wonderful work.’ I don’t want to do wonderful work. I want to do something for Jesus, for humanity, because I believe in Jesus. I believe in humanity. And I believe in the love of Jesus for each person.”
He spoke of the Gospel message of compassion and forgiveness and of the healing power of the poor and the broken.
“People with disabilities,” he said, “don’t have a great deal of intellectual capacity, but they have an incredible capacity for love and they are teaching us that compassion and forgiveness are the way to Jesus.”
He also asked the Knights to pray for L’Arche so that it can continue to be a sign in a broken world and “continue on this journey that Jesus has called us to so we can be faithful to the poor and the weak.”
The prize included $100,000, which Vanier said will be used to pay off a loan that was taken to build two new L’Arche houses—one in Mexico and the other in Haiti.
Honoring the mission of L’Arche
“The award is meant to symbolize the pastoral mission of the Church … and to honor those, who by their life’s work, exemplified the values of the Gospel,” explained Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.
What began when Vanier invited two disabled men to live with him in a dilapidated house is now an international federation of 130 community houses for the disabled in 30 countries, 26 in Canada and 15 in the United States, said Bishop Thomas Daly, Supreme Chaplain, in reading the citation for Vanier.
There are also more than 1,400 communities of Faith and Light in 75 countries. Faith and Light offers regular activities to the disabled and their families, creating a community of support and friendship.
“We honor a man of joy, a man of hope, a man of peace and a man who sees that every human being has an immense value and dignity and that expresses a profound and unique way the creative love of the Almighty,” said Bishop Daly.
“One cannot really help but think of the Holy Father who obviously dedicated himself to every single human being as the image of God,” the bishop continued. “And Jean Vanier, like the Holy Father, surely strives to see in every single human being the face of Jesus Christ.”
Vanier is the first layperson to receive the Gaudium et Spes Award, which was first conferred to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1992.