L’Arche began when Jean Vanier was introduced to two men with disabilities through a priest friend, Father Thomas Philippe, in France. Screen capture from "Summer in the Forest"/Youtube

New documentary tells the story of L’Arche and Canadian founder Jean Vanier

By  Catholic News Agency
  • March 23, 2018
Denver, Colo. – The French documentary “Summer in the Forest” depicts the lives of four disabled men and their unlikely friend: a philosopher born into a powerful and distinguished Canadian family, Jean Vanier.

Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, a federation of international communities for people with disabilities.

The film tells the stories of four L’Arche community members, Philippe, Michel, Andre, and Patrick, while asking viewers what it means to be human, and what it means to be happy.

“What is it to be a human being? Is it the power? If it’s power then we would kill each other,” Vanier said in the film, which opens in New York on March 23, and will have select showing across the country.

“See the wise and powerful lead us to ideologies, where as the weak are in the dirt. They’re not seeking power. They’re seeking friendship. It’s a message for all of us. It’s about all of us.”

Founded in France in 1964, L’Arche was among the first residential communities for people with disabilities, who at the time were often placed in insane asylums or other institutions. Today, the organization has 147 residential communities in 35 countries.

The film offers insight into the daily lives of people who were once labeled “idiots,” like Michel, a man wounded from childhood experiences during WWII, and David, a young man with Down syndrome.

Set at a L’Arche community in a forest near Paris, the film invites its viewers to take up the challenge of opening themselves to friendship amidst diversity.

After the completion of the film, Pope Francis sent a personal message to the film’s producers, offering his support for an initiative intended to break down barriers standing between friendship with the intellectually disabled.

“His Holiness Pope Francis wishes to affirm his warm support of all initiatives to foster and integrate at the heart of our societies the mentally disabled.”

Now 89, Jean Vanier was born in Geneva to the Canadian diplomat, Georges Vanier, and his wife, Pauline Vanier. Georges Vanier eventually became Canada’s Governor General.

After serving in the British and Canadian Royal Navies, Vanier took up philosophy studies in 1950. He received a doctorate in philosophy, focusing his thesis on the Aristotelian view of happiness.

According to L’Arche’s website, Vanier focused his research on the experience of “loving and being loved.”

L’Arche began when Vanier was introduced to two men with disabilities through a priest friend, Father Thomas Philippe. Vanier asked the men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to move from the institution where they were living to his house in Trosly-Breuil, France.

More people came, more homes were established, and as the community grew, the members showed Vanier a beautiful perspective on life: “that strength is revealed through weakness and human vulnerability, which given to grow in trust, creates community.”

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