L'Arche: A World-Wide Network
1964, a Canadian by the name of Jean Vanier invited
Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux, two men with intellectual disabilities, to
come and share their life with him in an old house in the town of Trosly-Breuil,
France, about 100 kms northeast of Paris. Together they called their home “L'Arche"
in reference to “Noah’s Ark”, the biblical symbol of deliverance.
is also a symbol of God's covenant with humanity.Inspired by the Beatitudes of Jesus which begin by
proclaiming “Blessed are the poor...” (Matt. 5:1-12), Vanier was
among the first in our modern age to see that it isn’t right to lock people up
in institutions. He believed, instead, that those the world would rather lock
away have much to teach us and can even heal us if we give them the chance.
From this first community, born in France in the Roman
Catholic tradition, many other communities have been established in various
cultural and religious traditions. Today, there are over 120 communities in 30
countries around the world. Each community is comprised of 2 to 8 houses, and
most communities run their own day programs, workshops and, in some cases, a
spirituality or retreat centre.
L’Arche homes differ from other kinds of group homes
primarily because of the nature of the commitment of those who live in the
homes. In L’Arche there are no “clients” and “staff”, nor is there
such a thing as “shift work.” People with disabilities are known as “core
members”, and those who assist them are called “assistants”. Assistants
live in the homes just as they would live with any family, and everyone in the
home—core members and assistants alike—is considered to be equally
responsible for the life of the community.
The Charter of L’Arche puts it best by pointing out that
the most essential part of every L’Arche community is its home life. Because
of this, says the Charter, “The different members of a community are called
to be one body. They live, work, pray and celebrate together, sharing their joys
and their suffering and forgiving each other, as in a family. They have a simple
life-style which gives priority to relationships.”
of Jean Vanier Speaking at St. James Cathedral, Seattle
Video of Jean Vanier being interviewed on National Public Radio
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