When I spoke to Jean Vanier recently, I felt blessed.
By chance, I was due to interview Vanier, whom many consider a living saint for his work with those with learning disabilities at the L’Arche community he founded in northern France, on the day after one of Britain’s worst tragedies.
Hours before our chat, an inferno had swept through a London tower block. Scores died as others told how they saw babies being dropped from windows in the hope that they might survive. And this fresh tragedy comes swiftly after terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.
“There is a culture of fear in England today and in the world,” says Vanier when I ask him about the recent events. “We’ve lost a serenity. We fear anything might happen.”
And it is this culture of fear that encourages us to put up barriers, he continues. “Barriers against people who are different, people who are frequently rejected.” In fact, barriers against exactly the sort of people with learning disabilities that Vanier has spent a lifetime embracing.
For all the fear, there is also hope, Vanier says. And nothing summons up a feeling of hope more than Summer in the Forest, a new film about Vanier’s work and the community at L’Arche which will be released in Britain today.
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