Jean Vanier: A Cry Is Heard, My Path to Peace

My Path to Peace
A Memoir, A Spiritual Autobiography
and a Call to Unity, by Jean Vanier
Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.  London.
2018. 144 pages. $15.00 CAD (with shipping).
Publisher’s Promo:
This book was born from a sense of urgency.
Faced with the sad divisions, fears, wars and
inequalities of our world, and the depression
and despair of so many young people, I have
dared to share with you a way of hope. In the
course of my life, it is people with an intellectual
handicap who have little by little transformed me
and freed me from my own fears, revealing my
own humanity to myself. A path towards unity,
fraternity and peace is possible. The future
depends on each one of us.’
This is the closest Jean Vanier has come to
writing a spiritual autobiography. Through the
stories of his childhood, the foundation of L’Arche,
and his relationship with significant figures such
as Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis, Mother
Teresa and Dorothy Day, Vanier teaches us
the lessons of his life, his own psychological
barriers and struggles, and a profound
message of hope for the future.Author’s Words:
(some of these words are repeated for emphasis)

This book grew out of a sense of urgency.
In the face
of the sad spectacle of divisions, fears,
wars and inequalities that pervade our world, in
the face of the depression and despair of so many
young people, I dare to share with you a path of
hope that was opened to meDuring my life, it has been people with an intellectual
disability who gradually transformed me, freeing me
from my fears, revealing to me my own humanity…(At the same time) I have learned that encountering
difference and working constantly to build bridges
and not walls, this is the path of peace…I am also thinking of people who are homosexual,
who, in a way, often live their difference as
marginalization in a world that has trouble accepting
them….I am now 89 years old and my strength is waning.
But I dare to cry: Let us set ourselves free!  Free of
our fears that build walls between groups and people…These words go against the spirit of competition that
tends to rule our modern societies… I am witness that
true happiness can be found in living this hectic race
in reverse. The people I live with taught me the path
of joyful wisdom. With them, I slowly learned to
relinquish myself, to lower myself, to accept myself
with my weaknesses, even though I have a long way
to go to become like them…In the twilight of my life, I wanted to try to trace a
few stages of this inner liberation…… I had this desire for a life of community with the
poor, rooted in the Gospel. The spark was ignited
more than fifty years ago, when our societies were
open to all kinds of new things…

L’Arche grew, so wonderfully, through the gentle
hand of God. If I was the engine behind it, no one
was more surprized than I. We were simply
responding to an urgent need.

Although inspired by Christianity, L’Arche gradually
began to welcome Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists.
Today, it includes 140 communities in around 40
countries on five continents. Together, we started
to discover unity on a human level.

Little by little, I was transformed as I discovered
a new vision for our society… Transformed by the
weakest, we discover that together we can work
for a transformation of our societies.

The fragile open us up to hope.

In their own quiet way, they inspired my journey
and have given me insight over the years.

– from the first chapter -“Praise for the Gift of Encounter”


Author’s Bio:

Jean Vanier is the son of former governor general Georges Vanier, and founder of L’Arche, an international network of communities for people with developmental disabilities. He has written a number of books, including Becoming Human (the 1999 CBC Massey Lectures), 

Finding Peace, Made for Happiness, Encountering the Other,
and Befriending the Stranger.
Jean lives in Trosly-Breuil, France.

His Wikipedia Bio:


Review by Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:
It is now more than fifty years since I first met Jean Vanier while a graduate student in ecumenical studies at Bossey, near Geneva, in Switzerland. Two of my associates at the time were Steve and Anne Newroth, who had recently spent a year at the fledgling community north of Paris called L’Arche. They went on to found the first L’Arche community in Canada, located north of Toronto in Richmond Hill ON.

Steve is a member of Colleagues List and he put me on to the
publication of “A Cry is Heard”. Several weeks ago he informed
me from Bracebridge, ON that he and Anne had visited Jean,
that he was aging, but still sharp, and still most hospitable to
visitors in his home in Troisly-Breuil. Marlene, my partner and

I last visited Jean ten years ago in his living room and he seemed   much the same as the Newroths found him this autumn!
I have two prized pictures near me as I write. The first is a
picture of Jean, speaking years ago in Toronto. The second
is a picture of Jean when he visited four Canadian graduate
students at Bossey, during December of 1967. (Jean, Steve,
Wayne, Richard and Larry.) These pictures connect me with

friends from more than a half century ago. Once I had studied
in Bossey and met people from L’Arche, I returned to Canada
a changed person.

I hope you don’t mind this preface to my comments about Jean’s latest (of many) and perhaps last book. I apologize for providing only a British publisher, but hopefully the volume in question will soon be published in North America.

Because of Jean’s nature, he was not inclined to write a personal biography or spirituality. His focus has always been on learnings from the community of L’Arche, in France or beyond France. If I had not learned the following from Steve, I would have never known that Jean was recently visited by the wife of the president of France. He would simply not mention it.

I find many new insights, experiences and events tucked away in these short 46 vignettes making up the book. (A sad example is the fact that, after he died, Pere Thomas, a key mentor of Vanier’s and of L’Arche, was reported to have abused a number of trusting women who had been close to him. I honour Jean in reporting this in the book because it surely hurts him deeply.)

This book is written much like Jean would speak. It contains the memories of a old man who is still a keen communicator; but time does take its toll.

If you want to read the closest you will ever get to a Vanier autobiography, this is it. Other books may tell it better, but you will never get a more authentic first-hand report.

Thanks, colleague Steve Newroth, for letting me know.


Buy the book from

Colleagues List, Vol. XIV. No. 17. November 4, 2018

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *