By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — A toe-tapping, hand-clapping sing-along marked perhaps the most joyous celebration of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award in its 49-year history.
L’Arche communities from Clinton, Chicago, St. Louis and Overland Park, Kan., led the sing-along Aug. 25 at St. Ambrose University in Davenport in honor of the award’s recipient, Jean Vanier, who refers to himself as the beginner of L’Arche. They concluded the songfest with “Happy Birthday” to Vanier, who turns 85 on Sept. 10 and will receive a videotape of the ceremony.
In an unusual two-part ceremony, Bishop Martin Amos presented the award last month to Vanier in Trosly-Breuil, France, where he began L’Arche a half-century ago with two men with intellectual disabilities. In agreeing to accept the award, Vanier, who no longer travels overseas, requested that a celebration be held to honor L’Arche in the United States. He believes the award belongs as much to L’Arche, an international federation of faith-based communities where individuals with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.
He got his wish as more than 250 people participated in the ceremony at the Rogalski Center.
“We are especially happy to host this ceremony today because over the years we have enjoyed a wonderful partnership with the L’Arche community in Clinton,” Father Chuck Adam, chaplain and director of campus ministry at St. Ambrose, said in his welcoming remarks.
Attendees at the Davenport ceremony viewed the acceptance speech that Vanier gave July 7 during Bishop Amos’ trip to France. Vanier spoke with deep humility, gratitude and a sense of humor, which the audience appreciated.
“The road of peace which we have learned in l’Arche is a very simple one,” Vanier said. “You see, we are not very austere or stressed, struggling to be heroes. We eat wonderfully; we drink merrily, of course — Coca Cola, orange juice, and now and again wine and beer, moderately. We sing loudly and frequently out of tune, and we dance wildly and we play as much as possible. Feast days, birthdays are all occasions for parties and for fun. We pray with all our heart, but not long hours. We do put our trust in God who is watching over us. Of course, we do work in our workshops and therapies can be serious and hard work.
“Each person is called to grow in inner peace and wisdom and of course we all grow to old age as time comes. There are sometimes heavy days when the wind blows strong and we feel we are floundering, but at the last moment the gentle hand of God saves us.
“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. For that we must all become like little children. Maybe that is our secret. Our secret too is that we want to live what Jesus asks us to live, wash each other’s feet as he did the night before he died.”
Following the video, Bishop Amos presented an award to L’Arche USA, which its national director, Joan Mahler, accepted. Quad-City calligrapher Paul Herrera created the work of art — a slate inscribed with the letter “P” in gold leaf. He also created the award in calligraphy that the bishop presented to Vanier. An honorarium went along with the award to Vanier.
“You are bringing peace into the world,” Bishop Amos told Mahler. “The Pacem in Terris Coalition honors L’Arche USA.”
Prior to accepting the award, Mahler gave a talk about L’Arche (which is French for “the ark,” as in Noah’s ark) and how the life and work of Vanier has inspired L’Arche in the United States.
“…Today, people called to L’Arche may — like Jean — be searching for a way to explore their faith. Others may be searching for acceptance, for friendship, or simply to serve others for a while. We hope that, through true friendship with people different from themselves, they come to find in L’Arche that they are loved and that they belong. They belong and have a place not just in their L’Arche community, but in the world around them.”
Mahler noted that Vanier is pretty open about L’Arche not being perfect. “But L’Arche has taught Jean and so many others about the transformative gift of sharing life with people who are not so skilled in hiding their vulnerabilities. For this reason, L’Arche USA focuses much of our work on recruiting motivated people to this life, and providing retreats, trainings and other support to deepen and sustain their commitment.…
“L’Arche USA must also look outside of ourselves more intentionally to add our voices to others – be it for expanding access to health care for the poor, for celebrating the gifts of people with disabilities for our world, or for inter-religious understanding.”
Bishop Amos called forward two of L’Arche Clinton’s representatives, Arch II House Coordinator Jon Kuiper and core member Becky Tyler, and presented them with a $1,000 check. “We would like to recognize L’Arche Clinton members as they approach their 40th anniversary year,” the bishop said. “You create a loving community, and the effect is felt beyond your home in Clinton. We hope this gift from the Diocese of Davenport will help your community and encourage others to do likewise.”
Msgr. Marvin Mottet, one of the founders of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, said earlier in the ceremony that “this event honoring Jean Vanier and L’Arche would not be taking place if it were not for Sister Marjorie Wisor, a Clinton Franciscan.” L’Arche had “the full support of the Clinton Franciscans and ecumenical support from other denominations as well,” Msgr. Mottet said.
Singing is a big part of L’Arche celebrations, so core members (individuals with intellectual disabilities) and assistants from the communities represented at the ceremony got up in front of the stage to lead the audience in song after the award presentation. Clinton L’Arche assistant Jo Anne Horstmann played the guitar and introduced core member Cynthia Hakanson, who also played along on the guitar.
“I’ve got that joy, joy joy joy down in my heart,” the group sang with enthusiasm. It’s a sure bet that some members of the audience left the celebration humming that phrase.
About the award
The Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award was created in 1964 by the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council. Since 1978, the award has been presented by the Quad City Pacem in Terris Coalition. The award honors Pope John XXIII and commemorates his 1963 encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth), which called on all people to secure peace among all nations.
2013 Pacem in Terris Planning Committee and contributors are: Diocese of Davenport; St. Ambrose University, Davenport; Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.; The Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport; Churches United of the Quad City Area; Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Davenport; Muslim Community of the Quad Cities; Pax Christi Quad Cities; Sisters of St. Benedict, Rock Island; Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton; and Sisters of St. Francis, Dubuque, Iowa.
Click here to view video of the ceremony.