In his annual New Year’s Day sermon at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, singled out Jean Vanier as an example of a life and labours aimed at Christ’s mission of “love, reconciliation and peace in the world.”
It was 50 years ago in the tiny village of Trosly-Breuil in France that Vanier, a former Canadian naval officer, founded the international L’Arche communities for the developmentally challenged.Vanier has said, “To love someone is to show them their beauty, their worth and their importance.”
“In their [L’Arche] houses,” said Hiltz, “life with all its physical, developmental and emotional challenges is celebrated.” In extraordinary ways, “L’Arche models such a straightforward living of the vows of our baptism.”
By contrast, the primate pointed to images from 2014 that reveal a “total disregard for the sanctity of human life.” They included the shooting death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he stood guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa; the Taliban’s recent slaughter of 123 children in Peshawar, Pakistan; the trafficking of thousands of young people, mostly women, for the sex trade; the beheading of men, women and children by the Islamic militant group ISIS; thousands of Syrian refugees now facing starvation; and the children of Gaza killed while playing at the beach.
“L’Arche represents a hallowing of the wonder and dignity of human life,” said Hiltz, calling it “a beautiful contrast.”
Vanier’s writings reveal that “at the core of his labours of love for humanity is his intense love of Jesus,” said Hiltz.
In his sermon, entitled “Singing a Song of Hope,” Hiltz said that in the personal desire of Vanier, “I see the very vocation of the church to be in and for the world-singing a song of hope in the name of Christ.”
The church is called to sing this song “with heart and soul and voice-in the sanctuary, in the streets and amidst the masses of humanity who suffer so much at the hands of others,” he said.
The primate also noted that world leaders had set 2015 as an achievable timeline for a number of Millennium Development Goals. But while there has been some “significant measure of success in eradicating extreme poverty,” he said, “it has been very uneven across regions, and indeed, within countries.” There is much more to be done “until all are fed,” as the World Council of Churches Assembly sang in Busan, Korea in 2013, said Hiltz.
Art Babych is editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the diocese of Ottawa.