By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — An unusual Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award celebration takes place Aug. 25 at St. Ambrose University. Recipient Jean Vanier’s acceptance speech, recorded last month in France, will be broadcast to an audience expected to include Midwest and U.S. representatives of L’Arche. Vanier describes himself as the beginner of L’Arche, an international federation of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together, including in Clinton, Iowa.
The free event, beginning at 2 p.m. in St. Ambrose University’s Rogalski Center, is open to the public and will include a post-celebration with cake, and singing and dancing led by Clinton’s L’Arche community called The Arch.
Bishop Martin Amos, who on behalf of the Quad City Pacem in Terris Coalition presented the award to Vanier in France, will present an award at the Aug. 25 ceremony to L’Arche USA, represented by National Director Joan Mahler.
Vanier accepted the award on the condition that it would recognize not just him, but L’Arche. “All our communities stand as a sign of the oneness of our human family. It is the weak and the poor who call us together to be a sign of peace,” Vanier observed in his acceptance speech. “The heart of L’Arche is to rejoice and to celebrate unity. We would like to be little signs of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love.”
Core members and assistants of The Arch in Clinton have been rehearsing songs in earnest for the celebration on Aug. 25. “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy down in my heart …” they sang during practice Aug. 15 at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Clinton. The “joy” song is “probably the number one hit at The Arch,” said song leader Jo Anne Horstmann, an assistant at Arch II (one of the houses in The Arch community). Two other songs the group practiced are an Arch original based on the beatitudes and a song titled “Beautiful.” “Everyone likes ‘Beautiful’ because of the hand motions,” explained Horstmann, who previously served as community leader of The Arch and then as regional coordinator for L’Arche USA’s central region. She and other L’Arche representatives are thrilled that the Pacem in Terris Coalition chose to honor Vanier and L’Arche.
The coalition, whose members represent faith communities, women religious, two universities, a peace organization, the Diocese of Davenport and The Catholic Messenger, believes Vanier — through L’Arche — exemplifies the message of justice and peace that Blessed John XXIII urged in his encyclical, Pacem in Terris.
“We’ve been aware of Jean Vanier’s work for some time, by virtue of having the second-oldest L’Arche community in the United States — in Clinton, Iowa,” noted Kent Ferris. He leads the coalition and serves as director of social action for the Diocese of Davenport. Encouragement of Vanier’s nomination for the award came as well from many people who appreciate his contribution to the betterment of the world through love, understanding and a desire to help people grow.
Coalition members have become more aware of the challenges faced by people with special needs due to recent front-page news stories about the mistreatment of men with intellectual disabilities in a small Iowa town in the Davenport Diocese. The men were deprived of a living wage for many years and reportedly suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of people they depended on for assistance.
Pope Paul VI said that in order to achieve peace, people must work for justice. The coalition believes that Vanier is building a foundation for peace through his half-century commitment to fostering communities of love, understanding and growth that lead to human flourishing.