Pope Francis thanked Jean Vanier for his witness

Pope Francis phoned Jean Vanier a week before his death.

He told reporters he wanted to express his gratitude for his witness.

“Simply put, I want to thank him and thank God for having given us this man with such a great witness,” the pope said.

Jean Vanier, whose charity work helped improve conditions for developmentally disabled people all over the world, died on Tuesday aged 90.

He founded the L’Arche communities for intellectually disabled people and also co-founded the Faith and Light communities for people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends.

A visit to a psychiatric hospital prompted the former Canadian navy officer and professor to turn to charity work.

There he met institutionalised men with intellectual disabilities who were brutalised and neglected.

One of these men asked Vanier, “Will you be my friend?”

From that moment in 1964, the international L’Arche movement of communities dedicated to people with intellectual disabilities began.

He founded L’Arche as an alternative living environment where those with developmental disabilities could fully participate in society instead of as patients.

With Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, two formerly institutionalised men, Vanier established the first L’Arche (“The Ark”) community in an unheated, tumbledown stone house at Trosly-Breuil, north of Paris.

L’Arche now has communities in 38 countries that are home to thousands of people both with and without disabilities.

“He saw people locked up and he decided to make a gesture, inspired by the Bible,” said Pierre Jacquand, who leads L’Arche’s facilities in France. “He felt a calling to defend the most marginalised.

“He gave them a voice,” Jacquand said.

He added that, over time, Vanier’s work helped inspire broader change in how France addresses the needs of those with developmental disorders, including Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorders.

Vanier also traveled the world to encourage dialogue across religions.

He was awarded the 2015 Templeton Prize for spiritual work, as well as France’s Legion of Honor.

He was also the subject of a documentary shown at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival called “Jean Vanier, the Sacrament of Tenderness.”

Pope Francis, who had made a point of thanking Vanier for his work, was informed of his death.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti says Francis is praying for him and the community.


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