By Barb Arland-Fye
By the reaction of the recipients, you would think paper certificates bearing the name of each L’Arche member attending Sunday’s Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award had been woven in gold.
Janice Warner, a core member of the Clinton L’Arche community, called The Arch, held up her certificate and gazed at it. Protected in a plastic sleeve, it could be attached inside a three-ring binder or tacked on the wall in her bedroom at Arch II.
Some other L’Arche core members (individuals with intellectual disabilities) from communities in Clinton, Chicago, St. Louis and Overland Park, Kan., excitedly approached friends and strangers with their certificates. “Did you see what I got?” they asked.
Each certificate expresses appreciation of the named individual as a “member of L’Arche and a person who contributes to Peace in the World.” The certificates also recognize Jean Vanier, recipient of the 2013 Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.
“Every person who got one showed me what they got. It’s as a simple as somebody knowing your name,” observed Deacon Jeff Schuetzle, who leads pastoral ministry of the L’Arche community in Clinton with Annette Lyons.
Deacon Jeff’s comment struck me as profound because of some of my experiences of the past week. On Friday (Aug. 23), I visited St. Joseph Cemetery in Parnell for an upcoming feature story. People whose loved ones are buried in this cemetery treasure it. I posed for a picture, standing beside the granite tombstone engraved with the names of the parents of Bishop Emeritus William Franklin because my hosts knew he would appreciate it.
At a Mass which began a pro-life gala that evening, I heard Bishop Martin Amos speak of the preciousness of each human life and how through baptism we enter an even deeper relationship with our Creator, who we now call “Abba, Father.”
I felt a lump in my throat during the homily that Father Joe Wolf gave the next evening at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. He recalled a Garrison Keillor story about a grandmother and her young grandson playing a game on a long bus ride in which they pretended not to know each other. Inadvertently, the little boy hurt his grandmother’s feelings and she responded by not referring to him by his name but as “little boy.” He pleaded with her to call him by his name; she let go of her hurt feelings and did as he asked. He rested comfortably against his grandmother’s stomach, at peace.
On Sunday, just before the start of the award ceremony, which I was emceeing, I met the L’Arche Chicago core member who would pray our opening prayer. What a gentle man! He asked if I would be announcing his name since he was substituting for another core member whose name appeared in the official program.
I assured Tim Stone that I would announce his name, and showed him where I had typed it into my notes. It meant the world to him to be acknowledged and to be able to represent L’Arche in prayer at a very special celebration.
I know what it means to be called by name, to see my name on a certificate. My name is a validation that I matter to someone else, that I am loved. Jean Vanier knows that to be loved, to feel loved, is the most precious of gifts.
Our Pacem in Terris planning committee’s decision to create individual certificates for individuals representing their L’Arche communities may have been the greatest gift we could have bestowed.