Jean Vanier: Our Life Together: A Memoir in Letters

Book, 2009, 566 pp

CMU and Mennonite Church Canada (partners in operating CommonWord) are shocked and saddened by the manipulative and abusive actions of Jean Vanier, which came to light on February 22, 2020. We unreservedly condemn his violent actions, and stand in solidarity with all victims of sexual violence. We also acknowledge the immense good done through the work of L’Arche since its founding in 1964, now a federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them, spread over 37 countries. Vanier played an instrumental role in shaping the vision of L’Arche, and during his lifetime wrote 30 books on religion, disability, normality, success and tolerance. The paradox of his manipulative abuse and his life-giving vision for L’Arche leaves us feeling anger, lament and confusion.

As CMU and CommonWord reflect on this paradox, we have determined to temporarily remove Vanier’s books from our shelves. We do so to signal our condemnation of his actions; to acknowledge the raw wounds that his choices open in the lives of victims of sexual violence; and our need for patient, ongoing reflection in life situations imbued with dissonant complexity. We view this choice as a necessary, provisional time of lament as we contemplate this brokenness.

Going forward, CMU and CommonWord will choose to hold together the deep contradiction of Vanier’s actions and the worthiness of his vision for L’Arche. In holding this paradox we acknowledge that our engagement with Vanier’s writing and legacy will change over time, a change that will demand our ongoing reorientation. In that spirit, CommonWord will in due course continue to hold and make available the writings of Jean Vanier.

More than 40 years ago, Jean Vanier, author of the bestselling Becoming Human, invited two men with developmental disabilities to live in his home. This simple act of friendship and compassion has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. Vanier is the founder of the international movement of L’Arche communities and of Faith and Light, two organizations that bring together people with developmental disabilities and the friends who share their lives.

A respected humanitarian, Vanier espouses the simple and inspiring philosophy that the marginalized, weak and lonely can teach us great things and that true spirituality can come from our relationships with the less fortunate. There are now more than 130 L’Arche communities on six continents and in 30 countries, welcoming people of all spiritual beliefs.

Our Life Together gathers significant letters from four decades of Vanier’s correspondence, beginning in 1964, the year he founded the first L’Arche community. In a spare and meditative style, Vanier reflects on world events, his travels, his own journey through his faith and his deep desire for interfaith dialogue and peace. Read together, the letters reveal a man of tremendous insight and compassion, whose example can inspire us all to do great things

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