L’ARCHE — Members of the L’Arche Saskatoon community and friends disembark from a riverboat cruise Sept. 20, part of a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of L’Arche that also included an afternoon prayer service at St. John’s Anglican Cathedral. (Yaworski photo)

L’Arche celebrates 50th anniversary

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski

SASKATOON — L’Arche Saskatoon welcomed friends and families to a joyful 50th anniversary celebration on a sunny autumn day Sept. 20, with a lunch cruise on the Prairie Lily riverboat, followed by a prayer service at St. John’s Anglican Cathedral.

L’Arche began in 1964 in France, when Jean Vanier and Rev. Thomas Philippe invited Raphael and Philippe, two men with intellectual disabilities, to live with them — “to come and share their life in the spirit of the Gospel and the Beatitudes that Jesus preached,” as stated in the L’Arche charter.

In L’Arche homes around the world, people with disabilities and those who assist them continue to follow that model, living together and sharing in life as a home and community. Today there are some 140 L’Arche communities around the world in 38 different countries.

L’Arche Saskatoon was founded in 2008, and includes one home, Christopher House, which is home to eight people, including four live-in assistants. Monthly Friends of L’Arche gatherings and ecumenical prayer nights also involve many others in the local L’Arche community.

To mark the 50th anniversary with a boat ride was an appropriate activity for an organization named after Noah’s Ark, which was also the theme of a reflection led by community leader Wyndham Thiessen during the afternoon prayer service.

“The word L’Arche is the French for Ark, for Noah’s Ark,” explained Thiessen, as core community member Cody took on the role of Noah and collected animal figurines from among those assembled for prayer.

Rain sticks previously made by community members were used to create the sound of the rain as Thiessen told the story of how in a world of violence, suffering and sin, God called Noah to save the animals and start over.

“We often hear this throughout the Bible: there is a situation that’s not tolerable. There is violence, there is sin, and something has to be done. And of course we know God’s ultimate response was sending Jesus,” who taught us to respond to violence with forgiveness and love, he said.

In the 1960s, the intolerable situation that Jean Vanier and others responded to was the suffering of those with intellectual disabilities, who were living in institutions, recounted Thiessen. “It was a small faithful step. There was suffering, and something had to be done.”

Living together as a community built on love, mutuality and forgiveness began to bring new insights to Gospel passages, Thiessen described. “Jean Vanier began to realize that he too was poor, that he too was broken,” he said. “He also realized quite early on that the people that he welcomed, while they were poor in some ways, in other ways they were not poor. They had gifts, they had riches to share with others.”

Thiessen added: “A lot of the gifts that people with disabilities have — gifts of welcoming, of celebration, of forgiveness — these are things that our world really needs.”

Prayers of thanksgiving for 50 years of L’Arche were offered during the prayer service, as well as prayers for L’Arche communities around the world, including those living in the midst of violence and unrest. Finally, the community thanked God for the gift of L’Arche Saskatoon, for those with “the vision and dream to be ‘Led by the Spirit’ and to build community patiently together.”

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