Claudia hails from Honduras. She was born
blind and autistic, then abandoned as a child.
She found herself in the 'L'Arche' (The Ark
like Noah's Ark) - these are homes created
by the Canadian Jean Vanier for people who
have developmental disabilities.
During her first year she was visibly disturbed.
She would spend hours just screaming aloud.
Now she is more peaceful. One day, Jean found
her walking around in the yard, smiling and
singing to herself. "Why are you so
happy?" Jean asked her. Her answer was
a one syllable word. "Dios (God)",
she replied! This young girl, who had been
abandoned by her family, has discovered that
God fancies her!
We all need to be loved. The mystery of the
Gospel is that God became man and died on
a cross to entrench in us this certainty
that whatever we do or whoever we are, He
In his book 'Befriending The Stranger', Jean
Vanier recounts this amazing story. "In
our community in Bouake (Ivory Coast) we
welcomed Innocente, a young girl who became
a source of life and great joy for the community.
She had been dumped as a child, left to die
in the bush. She could have been bitten by
a snake or killed by a wild animal but somebody
saw her there, picked her up and took her
to a local orphanage.
When she arrived at the orphanage she was
like a skeleton; she was dying. Innocente
survived all that, and the orphanage later
asked us to welcome her. She was still quite
small at the time and we knew that she would
never be able to walk or talk. We could never
quite understand what she was thinking, but
whenever anyone came near her and spoke to
her, her whole face would light up.
She had an exceptional beauty. She was completely
incapable of judging or condemning anyone.
She was too fragile and weak to judge anyone.
But if people did not pay attention to her,
she would feel hurt.
One day while I was looking at her, I thought
to myself, Jesus must be a bit like that:
neither judging nor condemning but terribly
wounded if we do not come close to him."
I found this very powerful. A good number
of people do not care about God. Others are
afraid to approach him because they believe
He may ask something of them that they cannot
do or do not want to do. I was disturbed
and hurt when in the Editorial of a local
magazine in Guam, Catholicism was presented
as the religion that 'perfected guilt' -
a comment 'to which my [Jewish] friend laughed
and admitted that I was right'.
So many misconceptions, perhaps created by
ourselves. God is not the One who enjoys
accusing and punishing. God is not there
to force us to do things that we do not want
to do. A God who has a knack of taking away
from us what we love or who is always demanding
is a false god. As Jean Vanier says in this
same book, "God knows our basic fears,
our fear of not being loved … even our fear
of being loved." He loves us just as
we are and wants to reveal how deeply he
A woman had a serious alcoholic problem;
she would go through periods of abstinence
and then fall back into drinking. She went
to listen to Jean Vanier and after the talk
approached him, "Now I understand. There
are two women living inside me. The one who
drinks and the one who, when she is not drinking,
refuses to look at the wounded part of me
as if it was too dirty for God to love. I
deny that that part exists and I only speak
to God about the bright side of me. I understand
now that I have to let God meet the wounded,
broken woman inside of me and let him enter
into all the dirt inside me."
Jesus did not come to condemn, He came to
Helen is now dead. She arrived at the L'Arche
when she was fifteen. Up to that time she
had spent her whole life in hospital in the
Philippines. She was blind, unable to walk,
to talk or to use her hands. Communication
was difficult. One of the girls, Keiko, was
assigned to take care of her, a job that
was not easy because Helen never responded
to anything. All she could do was open her
mouth for the baby feeding bottle.
Jean encouraged her to continue gently spending
time with Helen, talking to her, touching
her and holding her tenderly. He reassured
her that God willing, Helen will one day
smile and on that day she should send him
Months later, Jean did receive a card from
Manila that just said on the back, "Helen
smiled today". A trickle of life had
entered into Helen. She had begun to trust.
"Growth begins when we begin to accept
our own weakness." These words of Jean
Vanier are a gem of wisdom. Many of us have
always hated our weaknesses and tried to
hide or fight against them. Perhaps it is
time to start looking at them from a different
angle. The angle of God!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright