Friday, 18 July 2014

The Funeral of Thérèse Vanier at Canterbury Cathedral

By Maurice Billingsley

The Funeral of Thérèse Vanier, Canterbury Cathedral, 10th July, 2014.
For the second time in a week L’Arche gathered at Canterbury Cathedral. Still full of the joy of the double jubilee of L’Arche in France and the UK, we came to say goodbye to Thérèse Vanier, founder of the UK communities, here in Kent, where the seed was sown. Here was a Catholic Requiem at the beating heart of the Anglican Communion, a generous and appropriate gesture to one who was alive to the scandal of disunity, still achingly present in this Eucharist as the Very Reverend Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury, welcomed the congregation and remained near the altar throughout the service.

From the welcome at the door to the carrying out of the coffin, and on to her interment at the country churchyard of Barfrestone, community members with learning disabilities played a full part in her requiem. She lies next to her good friend Bill Armstrong, who in 1974 left a local long-stay hospital to become one of the first members of L’Arche Kent, living up to his name with hard devoted work, setting Thérèse’s dream on sure foundations in Kentish soil.

Fr David Standley welcomed the surviving founders, Ann Morgan and Tony Gibbons, with long-standing and younger community members from Kent and London, where Thérèse was part of the Lambeth community after handing Kent to others’ leadership. Former assistants and friends of L’Arche swelled the congregation in the nave, where the coffin was placed over the compass rose, the symbol of the Anglican Communion, worked into the stone of the Cathedral’s floor.

Jean Vanier, Thérèse’s ‘Little Brother’, told of her listening to God, after meeting another long-term hospital resident during a pilgrimage to Lourdes and of her starting L’Arche UK in Kent, at the invitation of Archbishop Michael Ramsey. He described the shock at St Thomas’s Hospital when their consultant haematologist left to work with people with learning disabilities.
There was L’Arche, but also Thérèse’s commitment to St Christopher’s Hospice where she worked with dying patients for eighteen years. Jean spoke of his sister’s competence and love, of her bringing people together in love. Of her ecumenical work he said, listen to God, he will lead us to openness; be with the weak, they will lead you to unity. Unity, Jean said, is a vision, not an ideal, and Thérèse had that vision.

Fr David Standley described Thérèse’s love of John’s Gospel and her chosen reading of the raising of Lazarus, (11:17-44) poignantly enacted by members of L’Arche Kent as he proclaimed it. She could also have chosen the washing of feet, a symbolic liturgy that she made a part of L’Arche’s life: the weekend’s Pilgrimage had concluded with this ceremony. Why the raising of Lazarus? Jesus wept: he loved this man who was living at home with his two sisters, a most unusual situation. Was this because Lazarus had a learning disability?
Thérèse certainly loved the sisters’ feisty protest, their anger with God, the underlying sense of humour there. She loved the drama of this story: ‘take away the stone’; ‘unbind him’. Now L’Arche removes stones to let people come out and let Jesus unbind them – and allows us to unbind each other.

Thérèse recognised that she had been unbound by many individuals.
As a faithful Catholic, Thérèse had a passion for Christian Unity, and suffered for it. Her teachers were the people of the communities, who showed her that we are all weak, we all need God, we are all called to be priests and ministers to one another. Fr David concluded with reference to the reading from Romans (14:7-12):If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. If we belong to God in life and in death, we live in Christ, we live in each other; Thérèse is not lost in death.

At the offertory gifts symbolising Thérèse’s life were brought forward by friends and colleagues, including the Communities’ Prayer Companions from Minster Abbey, and Dr Mary Baines of St Christopher’s Hospice, as a soloist sang The Apple Tree:
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

After Communion we heard more about this long life well-lived: the escape from occupied France, War Service with the Canadian and Free French forces and her time in St Christopher’s, where a doctors’ acronym (for once complimentary) might be found on a patient’s notes after she had admitted them: TGFT, thank God for Thérèse. The Kent Community, the elders of whom had lived with her, made a final contribution, ‘mostly non-verbal’ of Thérèse’s gifts and the things she enjoyed (such as the colour blue: of course, ah yes, I remember it well, and thank you for the memory!).

Forty years on from her arrival to found L’Arche in the village of Barfrestone, Thérèse came home, to wait in sure and joyful hope alongside Bill, David and other friends; the circle of her earthly life completed but not ended.

Over her grave her own prayer was recited:

… may seekers for truth give life to those who are satisfied that they have found it.
May the dying who do not wish to die be comforted by those who find it hard to live.
May the unloved be allowed to unlock the hearts of those who cannot love…
That we may be healed. Amen.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Thérèse Vanier has gone to the father

Thérèse Vanier, co-founder of L'Arche UK, died peacefully on Monday 16 June aged 91. She was the dearly loved daughter of former Canadian Governor General Georges Vanier and his wife Pauline, the sister of Benedict, Bernard, Jean and Michel. A former consultant haematologist at St Thomas's Hospital, Thérèse was the co-founder of L'Arche UK and a palliative care specialist.
The Requiem Mass will take place in Canterbury Cathedral (CT1 2EH) on July 10th at 12 noon.
Vigils will be held in Kent and London but neither community has confirmed the date or time of this yet. We will let you know as soon as we have the information.
Donations in lieu of flowers to:
L’ Arche’s Thérèse Vanier Memorial Fund
6 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester M20 4QA
United Kingdom

Thursday, 20 February 2014

PRAYER MOMENT WITH Fr. David Harold-Barry SJ


Friday 21 February 2014.

Pause. Be still in the presence of the Lord..

Reading. “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34 – 9:1)

Reflection. This paradox is at the heart of the gospel – and of all human life, perhaps of all life. I once saw gannets (sea birds) on the rocky islands off the west coast of Ireland and learnt that they are fed and fed by the mother and then abandoned. They have a choice: to cast themselves off the cliff and learn to fly and fish for themselves or to stay comfortably on the rocks and gradually starve to death. “Fly or die” is also our choice and in gospel terms it means a radical rejection of all that goes against our openness to God and instead finding Him in all the events of the day. And this means a rigorous attention to the working of the Spirit of God within and leads to an immense joy in discovering where that leads.

Prayer. Lord, teach us to “lose our life” in all the events of the day. Teach us that central message of the gospel and lead us to the joy of finding you in all things. Amen.

Please visit for every day reflections.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Hear his story

Very often we hold with respect the stories of people we regard as influential. We go to extremes to get their autographs and pay a lot of money to have their memoirs. In that line of thought, we, in many cases fail to realize our own stories and experiences. Yesterday I had the privilege to hear Divine’s story which I would like to share with you today.

Divine was born 8yrs ago in Banket, a town almost 90kms from the capital city, Harare. His birth was a delight to his family. He was the first son bringing a positive contrast to his two sisters who had come before him. His intellectual and physical development was normal (as expected) until one morning when he seemed to have been choked by what he was eating. He became paralyzed and immobile.  He was now 1year 9 months old. 

The sudden change of life for Divine had a huge toll on the family. It was not easy for them. For someone who was walking and talking to become suddenly the opposite, it troubled them. They pursued all the medical opportunities that were there to heave-off the challenges which Divine was experiencing.  Unfortunately the doctors said there was nothing they could do. They recommended physiotherapy which Devine took for some time but stopped due to the expenses they incurred whenever they travelled. 

The family did not lose hope when the medical door was closed. They believed that there was a way. Their focus shifted to GOD. They began to follow churches particularly those that are renowned for performing miracles. They related with vividness how on one occasion visited a church and stayed for three days in the hope of getting assistance. The Prophet told them that he was not healing children but only those who are old. They pleaded with the Prophet but to no avail. 

Today divine is 8yrs old. He can not walk, he rolls on his back and stomach to move from one point to another. He does not have a wheelchair. The family can not afford one. He has learnt to say some words so one can easily get into a conversation with him. He loves to smile and he knows how to give you a big charming smile that assures you that you are welcome to be with him.
This is his story.

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Good Shepherd

Leadership in Faith and Light

            This is a presentation given to delegates at the Provincial Assembly in South Africa by Fr David Harold Barry SJ. David is the Chaplain for the Capricorn Province. The presentation was very instrumental in preparing the delegates for discernment. Its usefulness has gone beyond Capricorn and its no longer limited to discernment. I t has become a constant reminder of every Faith and Light leader on his her role.

A leader in Faith and Light is not a manager of something that already exists. His or her task is to propose something that is always beyond what we experience now.
He or she is like one of the ancient Hebrew prophets who announces the hope of Israel and puts their finger on those areas where the people are failing to grow.
The leader is like the Good Shepherd who “goes ahead of them” and the people follow because they “know his voice.” (John 10:4)

The leader knows Faith and Light, not only from the Charter and the Guidelines, but from their experience of entering into the life and pain of disabled people and their parents.
Like the Hebrew prophets the leader will be discouraged and frustrated; I will give up and “not speak in his name anymore.” But they will always feel that “fire burning in my heart”  (Jer 20:9) and will persevere in their role as shepherd and “proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it.” (2 Tim 4:1)

A leader may feel like Jeremiah, “I do not know how to speak. I am only a child.” But he or she will hear the Lord’s response, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child’, for you must go to all to whom I send you … Do not be afraid … I am with you.” (Jer 1:6-8)
A leader in Faith and Light will not be put off by the lack of funds, difficulties of travel, poor communications. Nor will he or she flag because parents and parishioners, minsters and priests, don’t understand.

A leader will struggle that at least this one community will flourish; that at least these few parents will understand, that at least these few disabled people will rejoice in a new found friendship and acceptance, that at least a few young people will be attracted to give their time to Faith and Light and discover “the hidden treasure.”

A leader will start at the bottom with one community and, with imagination and courage, nourish that community until the moment when all in the community rejoice and say “now we know.” (John 6:69)
Then the leader can turn to another and another, and gradually “one by one” (John 10:3) the family of Faith and Light is built up.

The leader, when harassed and frustrated, “will go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 15:2) and contact “the elders” in Faith and Light and seek help in how to proceed. They will not “run away” (John10:13) and neglect the communities and let them drift.
Johannesburg, 19 October 2013     

Monday, 11 November 2013



Tuesday 12 November 2013


Pause.  Come into the presence of the Lord

Reading. “When you have done all you have been told to do, say; ‘we are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10)

Reflection. Looking back we can see mistakes made in the history of our country, in the story of the Church and in our own lives. If such and such a decision had only been made we would have been so much better off now. There is an article in a recent number of The Tablet about Bishop Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa, describing his sustained effort over more than twenty years to respond to the AIDS/HIV scourge and to struggle with the other challenges facing his country today.  He is an example for me of someone who lives that saying “we are only servants.” We are asked to do the best we can. That is all we can do. We cannot solve all the problems. At the end of the day we may have little to show for our efforts. But we are “merely servants”. The issues are far bigger than we are. We just make our contribution with joy and faith. And our little efforts, our five loaves and two fish, really count.

Prayer. Lord, “let me not see the distant shore, one step enough for me,” as Cardinal Newman prayed. Let me really do what I can in my small circumstances and leave the rest to you. Amen.

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Dear friends in Faith and Light

It was so good to meet in South Africa and get a sense of the communities in our three countries. I wonder how people travelled back home? How did the journey go? With my long legs I found the bus journey down a bit trying but it was OK and it was good to be with others. We somehow started the meeting even before we got there especially after meeting up with people from our southern region at 5.00 a.m. in Jo’burg bus station.

Our hosts were really welcoming and went to much trouble to see that we had everything. I stayed with the local Methodist minister whose five year old son, Nathan, gave up his room to me for a night. It was a blessing having Ghislain from Paris with us and gave our choice of Kathrynn as our new provincial a special confirmation and encouragement. I felt a great sense of renewal and hope for Faith and Light for the future and we expressed our great gratitude to Elinata for caring for us so warmly for so long.

After the meeting I visited the Jesuits in Jo’burg and then took the opportunity for some time at sea level in Capetown with friends who used to live in Zimbabwe. I spent my young days at sea level and it is amazing what it does to you to return to it for a while. Now I am back in Zimbabwe at close to 6000 feet above sea level and feeling the effects!

I met Farayi Kambarami, whom many of us know, and am planning to introduce him to the Jesuit run parish in Capetown. The Zambian parish priest was away when we tried to arrange something but we will persevere.

We can use this way of communicating through the site Time has set up. I normally send my leaves to him and he puts them on the tree but I think it is possible for any of us to “post” a message direct on the tree. So let us use this resource to be in touch. Just write!

Please let us know if anyone is born or gets married or dies or any other event that touches any of us. For instance, do we all know that Lorraine has a baby? And that Time now has a son, Brendan, a little brother for Lakeisha.

Tell us about your joys and challenges, your hopes and fears. Maybe we can help one another more in the future.

Let us also pray for Faith and Light and for l’Arche. Our task is not an easy one and we need the accompaniment of Jesus.