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Promoting a Culture of Inclusion-The Jean Vanier Symposium

24 March 2017 | General Interest

The greatest evil in the world today is division, which breeds fear, rather than the friendship and openness to others that is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching, the Canadian Catholic philosopher, theologian and humanitarian, Jean Vanier told a symposium in Sydney recently.

“The opposite of peace is fear,” he said. “People are frightened. They’re frightened of the other. Whereas what Jesus teaches us is to be open to others ... but that openness comes as we get closer to God. And to get closer to God we need to get closer to others.”

The Symposium, hosted by BBI – The Australian Institute of Theological Education, presented Vanier speaking with BBI Associate Dean, Dr Zachariah Duke, in a pre-recorded interview, filmed in France.


Following opening prayer, sung and acted out by members of Sydney’s L’Arche community, the interview was played in segments, with responses from a range of Australian and international theologians and people involved in the L’Arche way of life.

Jean Vanier founded L’Arche in 1964, in France, after becoming aware of the institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities. He invited two of the men he met, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave their institutions and come and join him in his own home. Today there are 149 L’Arche communities in 37 countries around the world, including five established communities in Australia and a further four developing communities.

L’Arche aims to make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities revealed through mutually transforming relationships.

For Vanier, those relationships, or friendships, are at the heart of Jesus’ teaching, especially as presented through the Gospel of John and the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.

“The Gospel of John is really a Gospel leading us to friendship with Jesus,” he said. “We see it in the  15th chapter: ‘I don’t call you my servants, I call you my friends’. And you see it in the sixth chapter on the Eucharist: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him’.

“So, everything is about growth to friendship. Entry into relationship. This is the heart of life.”

He said the story of the woman at the well emphasises Jesus’ reaching out in friendship to the Samaritan woman, who has been humiliated, is despised, has had family problems and is fragile.

“And Jesus meets her in her fragility asking: “Will you give me a drink”. And then what happens is that there is a relationship and she is transformed,” he said.

“And so maybe the whole message of Jesus is to meet those who have been humiliated”

Responding to Vanier’s comments the Bishop of Broken Bay, Bishop Peter Comensoli, said Vanier’s own life, lived in friendship with people with disabilities, embodied this teaching of Jesus.

“Friendship is not an achievement of humanity that needs to be gained,” Bishop Peter said. “It is a given of our humanity, and can be lost. Friendship belongs to our humanity. It is something to be discovered or recovered , not attained. Friendship is always in the direction of self-giving not self-making.

“It is in recognising the humanity of Christ that we discover the kind of persons that we all are - creatures who are made for friendship.”

The Symposium also touched on Vanier’s thoughts on the Church of Mercy, which urges people towards the margins, to meet those who’ve been rejected or are lonely and “help them discover that you are more beautiful than you dare believe”.  Other topics included disability and theology - a theology of the heart, the urgent call of Pope Francis in Laudato Si to care for our common home, and Vanier’s delight in winning the 2015 Templeton Prize because it shone a light on people living with disability.

Speakers at the Symposium included BBI CEO Dr Gerard Goldman; Dr David Treanor of L’Arche Australia; Prof John Swinton, University of Aberdeen (via videolink); Prof Anthony Maher, BBI-TAITE; Dr Sandra Carroll, ACU; Ms Catherine Anderson, ACU and L’Arche Genesaret; Rev Dr Gerald Arbuckle SM, theologian; Dr Peter Mudge, BBI-TAITE; Ms Cristina Gangemi, The Kairos Forum (via videolink); and Dr Medi Ann Volpe, Durham University (via videolink).

(Article by Debra Vermeer- with kind permission from Broken Bay News).



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