Arche International, L'

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L'Arche International is a federation of faith communities in which people with disabilities and their assistants choose to live and work together. The mission of L'Arche is to welcome people with disabilities and give them a valid place in society. L'Arche fosters the particular gifts and value of people with disabilities, seeking to show that people of differing intellectual capacity, social origin, religion, and culture can come together in unity, faithfulness, and reconciliation (L'Arche International, 1998). There are more than 113 L'Arche communities in 30 countries throughout the world, including 13 in the United States.

L'Arche began in France in 1964 when Jean Vanier and Father Thomas Philippe, a Dominican, invited two men with disabilities, Philippe Simi and Raphael Seux, to share a home together near Trosly-Breuil, France. Having first met Philippe and Raphael in an institution, Jean believed that a warm and loving home would have a significant impact on the lives of these two men. They all soon learned that the impact of sharing life together in a simple way lead to mutual transformation of heart.

From the desire of two people with disabilities to have a home and share life with Vanier and Father Thomas, L'Arche has grown into an international network of communities. While the founding roots of L'Arche are in the Roman Catholic tradition, it has now developed in various cultures and religious traditions throughout the world. It is recognized as one of the most significant Christian ministries of the twentieth century.

Jean Vanier was born in Canada in 1928, the son of Georges and Pauline Vanier. He was educated in England and Canada. After serving several years in the British Navy and Canadian Royal Navy, he earned a Doctorate in Philosophy from Institut Catholique de Paris, France. He continues to live in the first L'Arche Community in Trosly-Breuil. Vanier also inspired "Faith and Sharing" communities that meet once a month for scripture reflection, and with Marie Hélène Mathieu he founded the "Faith and Light" communities of disabled people, their families, and friends that meet regularly. Vanier received the Paul VI International Prize for his lay ministry work. Vanier has promoted L'Arche through lectures and interviews and has written more than twenty books. His Becoming Human (Mahwah, N.J. 1999) was derived from a series of lectures aired on public broadcasting in Canada. Recognizing Vanier's work, 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."

Bibliography: j. vanier, An Ark for the Poor: The Story of L'Arche (New York 1995).

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