A saintly man committed to peace and justice

WelCom July 2019: Zachariah Duke Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Community, passed away on 7 May 2019, aged 90. As someone who was blessed to share a friendship with Jean…

WelCom July 2019:

Zachariah Duke

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Community, passed away on 7 May 2019, aged 90.

A saintly man committed to peace and justice Archdiocese of Wellington

Zach Duke (l) with friend and mentor Jean Vanier, France, 2015.

As someone who was blessed to share a friendship with Jean Vanier over a number of years, it seems almost unimaginable to accept that he is no longer with us. It has been difficult for me to accept his recent death having only been in communication with him a couple of weeks prior to his passing. However, in the midst of my grief, I have been comforted knowing his remarkable legacy will continue to live on through the many L’Arche and Faith and Light communities that exist throughout the world. Moreover, it is reasonable to believe that people will seek out one or more of his many publications and read some of his profound work. This is a good thing.

My friendship with Jean began more than a decade ago when I reached out to him during the early months of my doctoral studies. We remained in touch and exchanged many letters. He became one of my trusted mentors – offering advice about my research (which was a project in disability theology) and life in general. I eventually met him in person in June 2012 after attending an academic conference in northern France. It was truly a surreal moment. I have fond memories of sitting at his feet for hours while he shared stories about the beginnings of L’Arche; his meeting with Mother Teresa; and his thoughts on the need for reconciliation of First Nation peoples of Australia. We held hands. We prayed together. It was a profound encounter with a saintly man. Since 2012, I have travelled to Jean’s home every year, with the exception of this year, to spend time with him – either just myself or together with a retreat group.

Another highlight of my friendship with Jean was interviewing him in June 2015. This interview is now available on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=7p478XRU8Uw), courtesy of my former employer, BBI – The Australian Institute of Theological Education. The genesis of this interview dates back to early 2014, where I very brazenly asked Jean whether he would make the trip to Australia to run a series of lectures. Jean grinned and responded by saying, ‘I’d love to travel to Australia again, but my body just isn’t up to it’. A fair response from a then 85-year old man. However, Jean suggested I travel to France to interview him. And that’s exactly what I did. This interview then became the foundation of an excellent symposium titled, A Witness to God’s Peace: A Jean Vanier Symposium, which was held in Sydney, Australia in March 2017.

I will miss my friendship with Jean but will hold my many memories of him, close to my heart. I am a better person having known him for a short time.

May he rest in peace and may his legacy live on forever.

Zachariah (Zach) Duke is Acting Academic Dean, Acting Head of Learning and Teaching and Lecturer in Theology at TCI, as well as a Research Fellow with The Nathaniel Centre.

This article is republished with permission from the Editor of Broken Bay News – Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay, Australia.

New dates for L’Arche film screenings

The screening dates of the film Summer in the Forest, about the late Jean Vanier and the L’Arche community, as advised in June WelCom, have been rescheduled to July and August. Wellington: Roxy Cinema, 24 July, 6.30pm; Palmerston North: Events Cinema, 7 August, 6pm. For more information about the film and to book tickets go to www.summerintheforest.co.nz or contact Peter Andrews (021) 620-244.