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“Will you be my friend?” asked Raphael Simi who was confined to the psychiatric hospital at Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux in Trosly, a southern suburb of Paris. Next to him stood Philippe Seux, both intellectually disabled and living in deplorable conditions. It was 1964.

A tall strapping professor of ethics listened. Already moved by visits to other institutions warehousing “idiots” and the unseemly, the question changed the direction of his life. Mindful of Jesus’s practical care for the poor, he bought a small house at the edge of a nearby forest and with his new friends set up housekeeping—a messy undertaking but one persevered in.

Daily, often humdrum, interacting dissolved barriers of fear and the customary manner of doing things, opened new inroads into the comic that they shared, and actualized the bedrock of their graced humanness: joy, love, tears, and freedom. From this experience evolved L’Arche (French word for The Ark—like Noah’s), and a quiet revolution was born.

After five decades, such radical care for the unlovely still inflames the psyche of its founder, Jean Vanier, now eight-eight years old. Others of like mind have entered into this movement and following prayerful discernment, developed other group homes in France and around the world. Today, L’Arche has over five thousand members who live in one hundred and fifty-one communities that are spread over five continents. Three of these communities are in St. Louis, Missouri.

This moving story has been captured in Randall Wright’s documentary, Summer in the Forest (2018) and can be seen at the Tivoli Theater in St. Louis, Missouri—another must see.

 

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Within a rambling old house in Webster Groves, Missouri, thrives a bright spirit in a body/mind scrambled by Cerebral Palsy. The fourth of five siblings, Finley’s early years were filled with hospitalizations for tests and surgery, with office visits to specialists and therapists who taught her parents how to support her growth. When older she began Special School where more helpers intervened in her nurturing.

Years passed. Finley continued growing into her Irish name–courage, fair-haired heroine.

Carrying her lanky frame downstairs to join the family has burdened her parents. Efforts to fund a chairlift from the state failed as well as relocation to a smaller house to accommodate Finley’s needs. Stunned by these setbacks, her parents waited and prayed.

In no time, their plight caught fire among friends and neighbors. A volunteer fundraiser stepped forward to raise the needed costs for the purchase and installation of the chairlift. She and countless others wanted this family to remain in their community.

The appeal is underway. Should you wish to learn more, please check the Finley’s Friends website — https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofFinely.

Finley has found a place in my heart. Perhaps she’ll find one in yours.

 

 

Finners

Available on Amazon

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