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Jean Vanier, champion of the intellectually disabled, dies at the age of 90

Jean Vanier, champion of the intellectually disabled and founder of the global L’Arche network, has died at the age of 90.

Vanier, who had been suffered from thyroid cancer, died early on Tuesday in Paris surrounded by some relatives.

Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier in the recent film, Summer in the Forest.

A Catholic, Vanier served in both the British and Canadian navies, before in 1964 he founded L’Arche when, encouraged by a Catholic priest, he moved into a home in the village of Trosly-Breuil, just north of Paris, with two intellectually disabled men who had previously been living in institutions.

The L’Arche network – which sees people with intellectual disabilities living with those without in community homes – now spans the globe with more than 150 homes in 38 countries. A film about the work of L’Arche – Summer In The Forest – was released recently.

Pierre Jacquand, who heads L’Arche in France, was reported as saying Vanier “saw people locked up, and he decided to make a gesture, inspired by the Bible”.

“He felt a calling to defend the most marginalised.”

Pope Francis has paid tribute to Vanier who he said had spent his life working for “the least”.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet that Vanier has “made it his life’s work to help the most vulnerable, and give everyone a real and fair chance at success”.

“He made our world a better, more inclusive place through @larcheintl, and his legacy will continue to inspire us all.”

Vanier was also the co-founder of Faith & Light communities and is credited with inspiring the creation of other organisations.

His work as an advocate for the developmentally disabled was recognised with numerous accolodes including the 2015 Templeton Prize as well as France’s Legion of Honor and the Companion of the Order of Canada.

He had retired from active leadership of the organisation decades ago but continued to live in the first community he had founded in France.

A private memorial service is expected to be held next week.



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