The Archbishop of Canterbury pays tribute to Jean Vanier
Jean Vanier lived the Gospel in such a beautiful way that few who met him could fail to be caught up in it. I join countless people around the world in deep sorrow at his death, and great gratitude for his life.
His generosity of spirit and Christian hospitality embraced the whole world – supremely those with learning difficulties. His L’Arche communities were places for the so-called weak to teach the self-perceived strong.
His love for Christ overflowed into every relationship with abundant grace. To meet him was to love him, to be loved – and in turn to love all others he loved. Such a luminous goodness was combined with humour, wisdom and practicality. His goodness was also combined with learning; his lyrical commentary on St John’s Gospel is the most beautiful piece of writing.
I had the privilege of spending time with him on several occasions, and always came away with a sense that here was someone whose whole way of being spoke of the goodness of God.
In 2016, Jean led the Primates of the Anglican Communion in a time of prayer and reflection at Canterbury Cathedral. At the end of it, he invited us to wash each other’s feet. It was a moving experience for each of us – and a powerful reminder of the example that every disciple has been set by Jesus. He did the same at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
Jean’s life was shaped in response to that example. The L’Arche movement, where people with and without learning disabilities live and share in life together, is a legacy and gift that he leaves to the Church and the world. I pray that we will be challenged and inspired by his example for generations to come.
The heart of his profound discipleship was to foster communities that Jesus would have recognised: communities of love and fellowship where people carry each other’s burdens, accept each other’s gifts and limitations – and find belonging, joy and healing.
In a world where individualism and competition can seem to have the upper hand, his vision, his teachings and his example were a powerful reminder that as human beings we are called to something infinitely more precious.
It is fitting that one who lived so thoroughly with and for others, and who helped so many find new life, should come face to face with Christ in Eastertide. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.