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Francis expresses gratitude for Jean Vanier’s “great witness”

The Pope said of the beloved humanitarian, “He was a man who knew how to read the Christian existence…from the mystery of those who are despised and rejected in the world.”

Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche communities, appears in the documentary "Summer in the Forest." (CNS photo/Abramorama)

On the plane returning to the Vatican after his trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the “great witness” of Jean Vanier, who passed away on May 7 at the age of 90.

Vanier was the founder of L’Arche International, a network of communities for those with intellectual disabilities. Vanier founded the first L’Arche community in France in 1964; today there are 154 communities in 38 countries worldwide.

Asked to say a few words about Vanier at the outset of his in-flight press conference on Tuesday, Pope Francis said that he had been kept informed about Vanier’s declining health and had spoken with him a week ago.

I would like to express my gratitude for this testimony. He was a man who knew how to read the Christian existence from the mystery of death on the cross of illness, from the mystery of those who are despised and rejected in the world. He worked, not only for the least of these, but also for those who before birth face the possibility of being sentenced to death. He spent his life like this. I am simply thankful to him and thankful to God for giving us this man with a great witness.

Pope Francis joined a chorus of voices worldwide expressing gratitude and sorrow at the death of Vanier, who was universally recognized as a tireless advocate for the disabled. In a statement announcing their founder’s passing, L’Arche included his final message, composed several days ago:

I am deeply peaceful and trustful. I’m not sure what the future will be but God is good and whatever happens it will be the best. I am happy and give thanks for everything. My deepest love to each one of you.


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  1. I had the honor of knowing Jean. He was the same whether he was talking to a king or president of a country or a stranger with no power or influence.

  2. Two retreats with Jean was to be in the presence of a Saint. He was truly a man after the heart of Jesus. RIP.

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