Photo: Walton Schofield shows off one of the five arks traveling the world in celebration of L’Arche’s 50th anniversary. Photo ©Brian A Taylor
Shortly after Jean Vanier, Philippe Seux, and Rappahël Simi moved in to a small home in Trosly-Breuil, France, Jean asked his friend Jacqueline d’Halluin help him name the house.
“She suggested about a hundred names,” Jean writes in his book An Ark for the Poor. “When she said ‘L’Arche,’ I knew without any hesitation that that was it.”
Only later did Jean realize the symbolism of the word, which means the ark in French. The story of Noah’s ark – a boat of salvation for God’s people – appears in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu scripture as well as they mythology of other early cultures, and aptly symbolizes a place where people can find safety from life’s raging storms.
Today, there are L’Arche 146 communities in 39 countries where people with and without intellectual disabilities share their lives together. Born in 1964 out of the Roman Catholic tradition, communities today focus their spirituality around Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and inter-faith traditions. While each has its own unique characteristics, they share common core values of dignity, relationship, spirituality, sharing life in community, and solidarity with one another.
This year the International Federation is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of that first small home by passing five wooden arks from community to community. Each ark can be opened to reveal three levels in which pictures, signatures, and inscriptions are being collected.
L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. hosted one of the traveling arks July 1-11. During its stay, the community re-enacted the story of Noah’s ark with founding core member Michael Schaff playing the leading role.
When asked how the L’Arche community is like Noah’s ark, members responded, “It’s a safe place,” “God is with us,” and “We’re a family.”
Once the arks have traveled to the all the communities they will land in France for a final celebration. Each country will also send a pair of representatives, symbolic of the animals going two-by-two into the safety of the ark.