Category Archives: L’Arche

16 September: A Warm Winnipeg Welcome

From Wikipedia

 

Our daughter invited us to the open air theatre to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As always, the players found new angles in the text that had not occurred to me. But as the bats flickered overhead, I was transported back to 1977, the year Elvis died, the year of ‘A Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille’, and my summer in L’Arche Edmonton. Hold on! You were watching Bottom, Titania and all the mixed up parties in the woods of Athens! But there were bats at an open air play in Canada, too.

I’d arrived in Ontario, visiting former L’Arche Kent assistants, but was now taking the Greyhound bus across Canada to Alberta. After riding past Lake Superior and the start of the prairies, I was in Winnipeg, tired and dirty and very hungry. This was before we had international debit cards so my money was in traveller’s cheques which I could not exchange as the banks were closed. After setting aside the coins for a phone call I had less than a dollar to spare.

‘Hi Maurice, we didn’t know what time to expect you! Just stay there by the bus station, we’re all coming into town to watch Fiddler on the Roof.’ I was still hungry, but had just enough cash to buy the cheapest dish on the restaurant window menu – the chef’s salad. It was a good bowlful but did not convert me to veganism!

L’Arche Winnipeg and I found each other. I was taken into the arms of the community at once; tiredness disappeared in the drama of the show. I regretted not being able to stay longer but I had time to visit the farm and help harvest the first sweetcorn, the sweetest I ever tasted.

Maize growing.

I heard a few people’s stories before leaving for Edmonton. To an Englishman the name Portage la Prairie suggested early voyageurs making their way through uncharted lakes, but it had a big hospital like those that our founders came from. Read two L’Arche Winnipeg stories here. 

It was good to see L’Arche growing in an environment completely different to rural Kent, and to be treated like ‘one of us’. And it’s good to see from their website that the community is still active and contributing to their neighbourhood. 

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31 August: A moment with … Tim Hollis by Maurice Billingsley

River Waveney and boats at Beccles, By David Medcalf.

The challenge was to describe a moment spent with another L’Arche community member, and it was issued days after news of Tim Hollis’s death, so this is what came to mind. Tim’s funeral is today, 31 August. MB.

We got to know Tim and Marion Hollis quite well in those early days of L’Arche; they were almost part of the furniture, they came so often. It was good to witness how greatly they respected every core member and assistant, an example to us all. When we went on pilgrimage to Walsingham, they welcomed us to their home in Beccles, with its little oratory in the attic, lit by a custom-made glass roofing tile.

Two or three years after leaving L’Arche I was working in a London adult training centre and was asked to accompany  a small group on holiday quite close to Beccles, so I wrote to ask if we might visit Tim and Marion; of course a warm welcome was extended.

After tea and visiting the oratory, Tim invited us for a voyage on the River Waveney, the southern end of the Norfolk Broads. Tim, Geoffrey Morgan and Jean had been in the Royal Navy together, and Tim now had his own boat, big enough to take us all.

Everyone was comfortably enjoying the trip when Tim asked the student beside him, ‘Mervyn, would you like to steer?’ Mervyn proudly took the wheel and soon grasped how to use landmarks to steer by. Everyone else got a turn, even Maurice.

I expected Tim to be wary of Eric, who spent all day head bent, looking down. Could he possibly steer a boat with eight people on board? Tim felt my tension, but said simply, ‘watch’. I watched. Eric stood at the wheel, hardly raising his head, but plying the course that Tim set him. Eric did not have the speech to say how he felt, but the pleasure and recognition he experienced were palpable.

That moment has informed so much of my work with people with learning and behaviour difficulties: so often they are not trusted and respected, even by those entrusted with their care, education and well-being.

It’s a bit late to tell Tim how much that one moment means to me still, but never too late to share such good news. Thank you Tim, and thank you, Eric.

God Bless,

Maurice.

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26 August: L’Arche pilgrimage II; you have something

L’Arche on pilgrimage to Canterbury.

A friend of L’Arche underlines the qualities of life shared in community rather than in a relationship of caring versus being cared for.

“I promise you, you have something….
“The depth of compassion for one another, 
the depth of simplicity,
the depth of openness, love and welcome that exists in L'Arche: 
no-one has it – no one.
“You are the living communities of peace. 
You are the living example and role model
 of what I believe the world is hungry for.”

“L’Arche has a simple message for our time: 
focus on relationships.
“Welcome the poor and the rejected. 
Create communities where relationships are the highest priority. 
Create communities where each person’s gift is valued and celebrated. 
Welcome the least 
and as a result, 
discover the best in all."

Tim Shriver, Disability Rights Activist and Chair of the Special
Olympics Committee
In L'Arche 

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25 August: L’Arche pilgrimage I; Prayer by Therese Vanier

May oppressed people and those who oppress them set one another free.
May those who are disabled and those who think they are not, help one another.
May those who need someone to listen to them move the hearts of those who are too busy.
May the homeless give joy to those who, albeit unwillingly, open their door to them.
May the poor melt the hearts of the rich.
May those who seek the truth give life to those who are satisfied because they have already found it.
May the dying who do not want to die be comforted by those who find it very hard to live.
May those who are not loved be authorised to open the hearts of those who are not successful in loving.
May prisoners find true freedom and free others from fear.
May those who sleep on the streets share their kindness with those who do not manage to understand them.
May the hungry tear the veil from the eyes of those who do not hunger for justice.
May those who live without hope purify the hearts of their brothers and sisters who are afraid of living.
May the weak confuse the strong.
May hatred be surmounted by compassion.
May violence be neutralised by men and women of peace.
May it surrender to those who are totally vulnerable, so that we may be healed.
Therese Vanier

In L’Arche Kent Community Pilgrimage handbook 2022. Therese was one of the founders of L’Arche Kent in 1975.

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13 August: Saint Radigund

Image of Engraving of St Radegund

 Saint Radigund’s story – she died in 587 – has parallels with Saint Mildred, who died in 768. At a time when women were seen as the possessions of men, second class beings, they stood out for women to be making their own decisions, and living the lives God was calling them to.

In this woodcut, Radigund has put her crown to one side and is studying scripture. Radigund or Radegund was a princess forced into marriage by the Frankish King Chlotar, who had taken her after a battle as his sixth wife. When he had her brother murdered she fled to the bishop of Noyon who helped her establish a monastery, where the sisters had to read and write as well as work at weaving and embroidery.

L’Arche Kent have their workshop on Saint Radigund Street, Canterbury, where weaving and candle-making are carried out, both monastic activities. Saint Radegund is one of the patrons of Jesus College, university of Cambridge. Let’s pray for both of them.

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26 July: Prayer and blessing of Saint Anne.

It was often confusing for Anne and Joachim as they tried to be good parents and grandparents. Art in the City, at L’Arche Kent’s Rainbow house.
Dear Saint Anne, 
You who are the mother of the Virgin Mary 
and the grandmother of Jesus, 

You who brought up your daughter 
in the expectation of the coming of Our Saviour, 
 
It was you who encouraged her to respond with generosity 
to the call of God in her life. 

You also prepared her to accept the invitation 
to be the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah. 

Help us to be good parents and good grandparents 
capable of helping  our children and our grandchildren 
to discover the love of God in their lives. 

Dear Saint Anne, bless and protect our families. Amen.

The Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) Saint Anne’s, Jerusalem.

When Fr P visited recently, he gave us this prayer, asking ‘Granny Annie’ to pray for us.

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6 July: Prayer for the People of Ukraine.

Yesterday we visited L’Arche; today we share a prayer for the people of Ukraine, published by L’Arche Kent. We remember especially the two L’Arche communities there, who with international assistance have been able to help their neighbours with essential supplies.

Heavenly Father, 
hear our prayers for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. 
Lord, we ask for peace for those who need peace, 
reconciliation for those who need reconciliation 
and comfort for all who don’t know what tomorrow will bring. 
Lord may your Kingdom come, 
and your will be done. 
Lord God, we ask for you to be with all
 – especially children – 
who are suffering as the crisis in Ukraine deteriorates. 
Lord, we pray for those who are anxious and fearful. 
For those who are bereaved, injured or who have lost their lives. 
And for those who have lost loved ones. 
                                                                                     Lord hear our prayers. 

L’Arche Kent Information Sheet, June 2022

Ukraine flag, Canterbury Westgate, March 2022. 

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5 July, Sustaining life: L’Arche and reasoning.

Mutual washing of feet is an important Lenten custom in L’Arche.

There has been many a battle within the Church, as well as in wider society, to persuade people to accept and treat those with learning difficulties as full and equal members. In the 1980’s and later we were still facing priests who refused to admit children to the sacraments ‘because, bless him, he doesn’t need it, he’s not reached the age of reason. He’ll never understand.’ (As if anyone fully understands the Eucharist at a rational level.)

A sister I once knew was catechist to a boy who had little spoken language; she prepared him for First Communion until the day before, when she brought along an unconsecrated wafer to enact the moment of receiving the Host. He held out his hands with such reverence; he made his First Communion there and then, she said.

That story came to mind when I read this passage from Archbishop Williams’s latest book. Regular readers will know that Agnellus’ Mirror is very fond of L’Arche. It’s good to find insights from someone else. I pray that we in L’Arche may always be consistent and life-sustaining.

It is essential for us to think about the ‘rationality’ of those we stigmatise, patronise, ignore and exclude whose mental capacity is not what we define as ‘normal’. The response of gratitude, affection, human sensitivity, ability to relate and cooperate that is visible, for example, in members of the L’Arche communities, where people with significant learning challenges live alongside those who do not have such challenges, should make us hesitate about defining the limits of ‘rationality’ without reference to such relational qualities. We may begin to see ‘reasoning’ as a richly analogical term, with an application to any form of consistent and life-sustaining adjustment to the environment, human and non-human.

From ‘Looking east in winter, contemporary thought and the Eastern Christian tradition’, Rowan WIlliams, London, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2021.

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1 July 2022: Praying with Pope Francis: Old People.

Saint Joachim, grandfather of Jesus.

Here is Pope Francis’s prayer intention for July.

We pray for the elderly, 
who represent the roots and memory of a people; 
may their experience and wisdom 
help young people to look towards the future 
with hope and responsibility.

Pope Francis has been speaking quite a lot about old age recently. Representing the roots and memory of a people is a quite responsibility for us oldies. It’s more important than you might think, until you realise that only two or three people remember events that were important at the time and helped shape our community or family today. And as for important people!

A couple of years ago a story popped into my head about a woman from Canada who helped shape our L’Arche community, back in 1975. I tracked down her brother who shared the story with her daughter – my friend had died between times. He wrote back, sharing his niece’s reaction, overjoyed to read about her mother, and a story hitherto unknown to her. ‘What a gift!’ she had said.

Yes, memory is a gift, not only for old persons but for those who are energised by the stories of beginnings and growth, prosperity and hardship. Maybe this July could be a month of sharing memories, sharing experiences and hope. Praying for the elderly might well include listening to them and recording their wisdom.

Follow this link to Independent Catholic News and Pope Francis’s video message for today.

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26 April: Who should not live?

Leeds University War Memorial, Eric Gill.

It makes no sense that having Down’s syndrome is considered reason enough for an unborn child to be aborted. Not if you know one or two people with Down’s; and as Adam Rutherford reminds us:

None of the worst crimes of humanity … was perpetrated by people with Down’s syndrome … If we truly wanted to reduce the sum total of human suffering then we should eradicate the powerful, for wars are fought by people but started by leaders.

Adam Rutherford: Control: the Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics.

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