ORANGEDALE: The residents and staff of L’Arche Cape Breton didn’t have a great day on May 7 as the life of Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche movement, came to an end. He was 90.
“I can speak for the community here in saying that Jean Vanier celebrated the value of each person, regardless of where you’re from, what your abilities or disabilities are,” said Mukthar Limpao, executive director and community leader of L’Arche Cape Breton in Iron Mines.
“You’re a human being, and that is to say you have a unique value – something to be celebrated. You have something beautiful and meaningful to contribute to the world.”
Limpao spoke to The Reporter last week, and he fleshed out his personal interaction with Vanier. In 2016 and 2017, Limpao visited the village of Trosly-Breuil, France to meet with the great man.
“It’s hard to describe what those visits were like, but it was a beautiful moment for me,” Limpao said. “It felt like a sacred time for me. He’s just another human being, but living what I live in L’Arche and being inspired by him, being in front of someone who inspired all that was something special.”
Vanier traveled all over the world, but Trosly-Breuil is where he considered home. Trosly-Breuil was the birthplace of the L’Arche movement, as that was where Vanier invited the first L’Arche residents to live with him.
In addition to forming L’Arche, Vanier founded the Faith and Light movement in 1971. The movement is an international support network for families who have a member with a disability. He formed Faith and Light with Marie-Hélène Mathieu, a well-known disability rights activist.
‘Lights’ is one of the words that stand out for Limpao, when talking of Vanier.
“One of the lights has been extinguished, and that’s sad, but Jean always reminded us to grow. We have a sense of gratitude for his life. His life might have been extinguished, but his light was passed on to many of us who share his vision.
“When we met the first time, one of the things we talked about was grief.”
Limpao recollected a passage from the Book of John that says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bares much fruit.”
It was Vanier who pointed that out to Limpao.
“We have a vibrant community here in Cape Breton that welcomes differences and embraces differences as something important,” Limpao said. “We are continually welcoming people from parts of the world who are open to sharing life with us.
“It’s not a community unless we reach out to those outside L’Arche Cape Breton.”
Limpao said Vanier’s work with L’Arche was aimed at helping people with intellectual disabilities rise above marginalization, but Vanier’s greatest legacy is expanding that sense of welcome to people of other genders, races, religions, and anyone feeling like an outsider.