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St. Martin visit to L’Arche

arche visitIn 1964 an extraordinary man started an extraordinary project. Jean Vanier, son of the Governor General of Canada and a Dartmouth trained ex-naval officer, bought a small house in a village to the north of Paris and invited three mental handicapped men to share it with him.

This was the beginning of L’Arche, a special form of community where people who are often rejected and despised by this world can develop their abilities to their full potential and make their particular contribution to the lives of others.
There are now L‘Arche communities all over the world, offering a model of the care that can be extended to handicapped men and women. But they have a deeper significance. To Jean Vanier the inhabitants of L’Arche are people who, though poor in many ways, are possessed of exceptional richness of heart, who through their suffering can reveal to us the inadequacy and poverty of our own live, and help us to live more fully.

St. Martin CSA derives a lot of inspiration from the contact the people of L’Arche have with the vulnerable in their communities. Just as St. Martin CSA they are ‘seeing the poor differently’ however due to the home setting of their communities the experience of
L’Arche seems to be more intense.

On the 10th of February 2007 a group of 13 staff members of St. Martin CSA travelled to Kampala, Uganda to spend a week with the L’Arche community and had a chance of  experiencing the gifts of people with disabilities in a different way.
A chance of looking at the vulnerable through the vision of Jean Vanier, a chance of meeting Jesus in the poor.

During the Tuesdays’ morning prayer after the exposure the richness of their encounter became obvious through the sharing of Alice, a house mother in St. Rose rescue centre for girls.

‘I had always thought that it was me who would give to the beneficiaries of L’Arche ,only to realize there was more to receive. During my stay members of L’Arche community gave me memorable lessons which I hope I will never forget.
I was given the opportunity to spend quite some time with Carol, a girl with severe physical and mental disabilities. She was unable to speak, unable to walk, unable to take care of herself. Carol spends her days lying on her back.
I soon realized that my experience with the girls from our centre is the complete opposite. They make noise, are naughty, run up and down .My patience and love has grown a lot working with these girls and I had become very proud of those virtues. However, with Carol, she was not naughty, made no noise, she was merely lying there. Looking at me with her beautiful eyes.
As my days at L’Arche passed I discovered that I had developed my heart in a very specific way, only to meet the needs of the girls in the centre. Carol taught me another dept of patience, another dept of compassion. She made me realize that in my journey to love and care for the vulnerable I am but a mere beginner. My previous pride was uncalled for and I needed to humble myself to learn and receive more.’

The sharing of Alice and many others made us realize that the poor do not only have that incredible richness of the heart but also the capacity of communicating directly to ours; contributing directly to the value of our lives.
As it is written in Corinthians 1, 1:27: God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise and He chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and think is nothing in order to destroy what the world thinks is important.

Thank you L’Arche Uganda for giving us that gift.

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