A Father’s Story:
It is a privilege for me to share with you what Faith and Light means to me. When my son was born ahead of time and underweight he was in an incubator. The doctor on duty told me my son might have Down Syndrome. Next morning the Pediatrician told me that my son was “Mongol” (I thought that phrase was not used any more). He was less than positive and said that my son would never amount to much. Devastating news! We were lucky and were put in touch with wonderful people who helped with the physical and emotional pain over those first years. To see my son’s progress over those first years was great, but in my heart I was still asking Why me God?”. While out shopping one day we met two charismatic ladies, they introduced us to Faith and Light. My son loved it right away and soon had lots of friends.
I did not take to it at once, thought it was too “happy-clappy”. I discovered that most dads felt the same when they were introduced to Faith and Light. Reading some of Jean Vanier’s books, I discovered that he was on my wavelength. He saw no obstacle to progress and development of people with special needs. He saw them as special because they could achieve so much and give back much to society and the Church, whereas others felt they had nothing to give. 20 years on and we are still part of this movement which has helped us develop our spirituality and given us the confidence to express it. Faith and Light does not lead campaigns, and could be seen as slightly “scatty” and not very organised, but it never compromises it’s ideals.
Thank you to those ladies and to Faith and Light for what you have done for me and my son and to all the true friends we have made over 20 years. A dad.
A Chaplain’s Story:
My early days as Chaplain with Faith and Light were filled with a slight nervousness. However, wouldn’t it be giving something to the community so all would be well. But, the reverse happened, the special people welcomed me with all their hearts, ‘cead mile failte’ is their strong suit. They knock all our assumptions on the head. They show the value of being both vulnerable and strong and they help open new values to chaplains. They turned upside down all my notions of who the Lord values. We would look up to people who have power in our world. However special people reveal a God who values relationships, based on His unconditional love for each and every child on the planet, NO EXCEPTIONS!
We hear from parents of their experiences and difficulties raising a family, we listen to their cries of hope at the birth of their child, and come to appreciate their resilience in overcoming obstacles along the way. In that listening we hear echoes of our own path of faith as chaplains. Parents bring us to live experiences, new or barely attended to of the value of “tough love”, and with their children lead us towards Gospel values. As I see a chaplain’s role it is to search through the experiences of the first followers of Jesus and link them to experiences in our lives and in the Community. Here we will spot the value of vulnerable people who have the gift of “having feet on the ground but eyes on heaven”. Through the reflections of Jean Vanier many have found these same values.My thanks to all involved in Faith and Light for all have received from you. Fr Alan.
A Friend’s Story:
Three words sum up Faith and Light for me, Faith, Fun, and Friendship.
Faith:- I joined Faith and Light when I was 14, a very impressionable age. From day one I was struck by the strength of people’s. faith, especially that of parents. I attribute my own beliefs to what I witnessed in Faith and Light. It has made religion something which is fun and easy to understand and I have brought that with me throughout my life so far. I thank the members of my community for getting me through my studies in medicine. I could always depend on some high quality prayers at exam times.
Friendship:- I have wonderful friends in Faith and Light, a very special one is Andrea, we were born on the same day. It’s great to know there is one person who won’t forget your birthday. Andrea is a very accomplished pianist, she has completed her grade 8 course on the piano. I always look forward to making new friends in my own group and all over Ireland.
Fun:- No matter what we do, be it our monthly meeting, or on day out together we always have so much fun. With Ann Marie our resident soloist, Mary C our musician, (tin whistle), we’re always ready for a sing¬song. Mary Devin is always ready to co-pilot for long trips and thank God for Patsy who is always with us to help with cleaning up after our parties. I love the lack of inhibitions shown by everyone in Faith and Light. Dressing up for a mime is always part of our meetings. My favourite memory is at a recent performance of a Nativity Play, we dressed a sheep up in the chaplains robe. When he looked for it he found it bundled up on someone’s knee. No matter who you are, priest or pauper, you are treated the same in Faith and Light. I love being part of Faith and Light and look forward to lots more fun and laughs in the future. Una.
The Beatitudes of a Special Person
I bless you when you take time to listen to me, because I have things to say. I bless you when you walk with me in public places, because I like your friendship. I bless you when you never say “hurry up”, because all I need is time. I bless you when you do not take a job away from me, because I will surprise you when I get it right. I bless you when you stand with me when I try new things, because I know that I can do it. I bless you when you ask me to help, because I like being wanted. I bless you when you help me like the way Jesus would help me. I bless you for accepting me as I am, because I was formed In God’s image. Let us all rejoice, that by giving me support, you are treating me just as Jesus would treat all his children.
Mary Grimes- Provincial Co-Ordinator for Ireland’s Faith and Light
On Holy Thursday 1971, a large group of 12,000 pilgrims arrived in Lourdes. The group was made up of 4,000 people with an intellectual disability, parents and young friends. During this pilgrimage Faith and Light was born.
Faith and Light is a community movement which was born out of pain, loneliness and isolation. It is also Ecumenical an has spread all over the world.
At the heart of each community are children, adolescents and adults with intellectual disabilities. They are surrounded by their family and friends especially young people and where possible are accompanied by a chaplain.
Brothers and sisters of people with intellectual disabilities are called to appreciate that if their brother or sister disrupts their lives he/she can also transform and transfigure it.
Communities ( which are non-residential) meet regularly for times of sharing, prayer and celebration. Sharing in small groups allows each person express themselves through words or other forms of communication e.g. drawings, modelling, mime or gestures. In this way we seek to “be with” each other carrying one another’s burdens, supporting and encouraging each other in our needs. Through friendship, tenderness, and fidelity we become signs of God’s great love for each and every one.
Faith and Light is founded on the belief that each person with an intellectual disability is fully a person with all the rights of a human being: above all a right to be loved, respected and recognized for themselves and in the choices they make.
Together with regular meetings, pilgrimages, holiday camps and retreats are a very important part of the life of our movement. They bring members from different communities, different countries and from different faith traditions, together for sharing, prayer and celebration. At these gatherings bonds of friendship are formed with members of other communities which are a source of encouragement, support and joy in spite of suffering.
Each summer a group of over 30 young people with an intellectual disability and their friends go on retreat to Trosly in Northern France for a retreat with one of the founders of the movement, Jean Vanier. During the five days they spend there, they pray, share, celebrate and have fun together. This retreat is open to young people who may not be members of a community.
My joyful life in France
To meet Jean Vanier at the la Ferme retreat centre, Trosly, one hour north of Paris, means peacefulness. L’Arche is about Faith & Light youth retreat with people who have a disability. We have prayers of joy and have friendship with each other. We walk through the woods and talk about God being everywhere and making everything and the peace he gives us, the social joys of fun and friendships, good food, plenty of cheese and a glass of wine. We are up talking and singing till midnight.
We went to Lourdes on the 40th Aniversary pilgrimage, it was interesting. Pilgrims came from all over the world to it. I joined the Faith and Light group in Holyford, Co. Limerick in 2002. It is run by Liza Williams. I enjoy that gathering and I am looking forward to going to France this year for the fifth time and to the Faith and Light gathering in Maynooth in the summer. Faith & Light has brought me to God, peace and friendship. Emily Moore, Tipperary
A Chaplain’s experience of Faith & Light
Faith & Light first came into my life in 1997 when I moved to a new parish and took up the role of chaplain to the local F&L community. To tell the truth, I knew next to nothing about it at that time and had very little in the way of experience of people with intellectual disabilities so it was a bit daunting to be just dropped into it. One of the first realisations to come to me though was that experience means little; openness means everything. In Faith & Light, the chaplain, be they lay, religious or ordained priest or minister, will find themselves in an unusual and perhaps initially uncomfortable situation: being ministered to as much as they minister to others. We often find ourselves and perhaps expect ourselves to be the ones offering the service, the words of advice and encouragement, the comfort and assurance of faith. While it’s true that these pastoral needs are often sought of the Faith & Light chaplain, it is the experience of being ministered to, being lifted and comforted and affirmed, that becomes the gift of the community. There is a term that is sometimes used in Faith & Light to refer to those in the community with intellectual disabilities: the special friends. The truth is though that it is through these very members of the community that all others are reminded that they themselves are special. When someone approaches you with no hidden agenda, no sense of inhibition based on position or authority, it is so wonderfully freeing that, like walking into sunlight, it can take some time to adjust our vision. But that is the light of this movement, a light that illuminates, invigorates and casts away the darkness of ignorance and discrimination. It is done in faith: faith in the simple principles that founded the movement, faith in the power of love and acceptance and faith in the simple, honest beauty and dignity of each person, given by God. Faith & Light stretches across languages, cultures and even the shamefully difficult barriers constructed between faiths. Very often a community’s sense of worth and its place in the wider community can be strengthened (but is not dependent upon) the support of a chaplain. I would encourage all those in ministry, if they get the opportunity, to play a part in Faith & Light. I know we can sometimes resist what might appear to be another demand on our already busy schedules. but unlike some of the things that take up our time, this one nourishes. enriches and blesses us in return. All that is asked is that we open our minds and our hearts to the sometimes challenging but always beautiful presence of God. Fr. Ian Fee
An Assistant’s Story
I’d like to start off by saying that one of the most important things I have learned from working at L’Arche is that free time is amazing. Just being able to sleep was such a luxury. I’m not complaining of course, but this aspect of L’Arche really showed me how important mental strength is.
To be honest when I first showed up at the green house in Ontario I kinda of thought the assistants were a bit lazy and selfish when it came to their time off which of course is not true at all. They just took to their time off very seriously and once 2 oclock came around they were gone.
I showed up eager to get working because I felt I was useless. I felt like they were going very easy on me in terms of my transition to the L’Arche lifestyle. Oh how ignorant I was.
Within a week my lunch break was a beacon of tranquility. I could just lay down and sleep.
All of you so far are probably thinking why on earth would I go all the way to Canada to not sleep.
Hopefully by the end of this you’ll understand why it was all worth it. And why id do it again.
When I was on the plane to Canada I was afraid. Not just nervous but afraid. I had no idea what to expect. I had little to no experience when it can to interaction with people with developmental disabilities and I had worst case scinerios playing over and over in my head about taking care of these crazy people that I as going to live with for the next two months.
I knew my friend James was worried as well. We joked about showing up and not going to larche but instead, going into the city and living out a two month holiday. Eventually we started to question whether we were still joking or not but we held out.
The experience as a whole was quite bizarre. We were put into different houses which at the start I was dissapointed but after a while I was glad. We wouldn’t have been forced to interact in the way we did if we were together. I’ll share with you my story from green house and James can share his story from his.
Green house was great. They were so understanding and easy going and let me recuperate after the journey through the 5 different time zones and they were just lovely, pleasant people.
It took me a while to get to know everyone, particularly one of the core members Hellen. She wasn’t very good with new people. She didn’t do anything bad it’s just she was easily bored with whatever you were talking about unless she knew you. She would ask so many questions about everything and a lot of the time repeated herself but once you asked her one question she throw up her hands and said ‘ugh too many questions. I don’t like questions’.
Part of the fear I had about coming to larche was with the core members themselves. I think we all can agree that when we are forced out of our comfort zone or put with people that are different than the type we are used to, we go into an alert state. A state that is ready to deal with potential danger and threats. These different experiences are the potential threats. Whenever I encountered core members before I would go into the alert state simply because I wasn’t used to it. And I didn’t understand it fully. I saw them as unpredictable and this viewpoint can sometimes overshadow the obviousy fact they are still human. They feel everything that I can feel. Now I see this as common sense but before it didn’t fully click with me which I’m sad to say.
In daybreak I learned something that I never could have predicted. When I thought of mental disabilities I would think ‘ok their learning capacity is not quite the level of others, they may have memory loss, they can’t express themselves fully’ these were aspects I saw. One core member in my house, Tim, was a popular guy around the property. He had a problem remembering details like the score of a baseball game or the time he was supposed to go to prayer, but apart from that he was like any of the other assistants in the house. In fact it took me a couple hours to realise he was a core member and not an assistant. But Tim’s biggest problem was anxiety. He had a girlfriend and we all know relationships can be stressful but I didn’t imagine that a problem like that, a problem I have had before, was the same problem he was having. It’s was very narrow minded of me at the time but that’s how I saw it.
Another core member joey, he was a character. He would put a smile on anyone’s face but he had a lot of trouble telling people how he felt. If he wasn’t feeling well he would curse and maybe throw things and he couldn’t put words to how he felt. It’s awful. But one thing joey taught me is that you can see the darkest side of someone, but if you’re patient and try your hardest to understand, you end up seeing the brightest happiest guy in the world.
I remember one time he drank a milk shake way too fast and his stomach began to hurt. He couldn’t tell us this because he just wasn’t able. He cursed, threw his glasses, his book, wallet everything. We kept asking him what was wrong, what’s hurting joey. He finally threw up a little on the carpet after half an hour of trying to calm him. He then just looked at me and a big smile went across his face. He took my hand and walked me over to the couch and started showing me pictures of him fishing. He loved fishing.
We all have turmoil that cannot be put to words. Sure we can tell others when we have an upset stomach but inner feelings that cannot be put to words, how do we communicate them? Sometimes we can’t,
I have spoken about a few of the core members but the two lads I got the closest to were David and Peter. Peter wasn’t very vocal but he was obsessed with knowing where everyone and everything was all the time. Before I arrived, they apparently found peter, who by the way is in his late 60s and has the physic of someone in there 100s, was standing on a stool in the kitchen trying to reach a pot that wasnt supposed to be above the fridge. Though he wasn’t very vocal he clearly had strong emotions. His body language was everything. You could tell when he was nervous and anxious and if someone wasn’t there at the time they were supposed to be he would get very agitated. But he had one thing that would put him at ease. A beer. Guiness actually was his favourite drink. Now we weren’t feeding a drinking problem with Peter. He would have one beer every second night and on Fridays he would go out with a French man Philip who was a friend of the property. But Peter and I got very close over the two months. With about two weeks left, the leader of the house, Clara, told me that it would be good to start telling the core members that I’m leaving on the 1st of August just to help them with the transition. So I started telling peter during his morning and evening routines. Peter who isn’t vocal really at all would then say at some point during every day, ‘I’ll miss you jontin’
David then was the star of the house. He was there from the beginning and he had the greatest sense of humor of everyone. He suffered from very bad tremors in his hands which made it difficult to eat. He would always joke about his food still being alive when a bit of bread would go flying across the table. He told me that if I stayed in larche long enough I would start getting the tremors too. But David was the most patient person I have ever met. He never complained about his difficulties or about anyone else. There was one incident where one of the assistants was having some trouble and David would always wait till he as alone with him and ask if everything was ok. He was always concerned about the well being of everyone in the house who he saw as family that he loved unconditionally.
He loves asking questions about you’re family and who’s in it and what they do and their names but he would forget and over time would have to ask again.
I was helping him one morning and he asked ‘how many sisters and brothers do you have’
I told him I had two sisters I told him their names and where they were.
He then asked about my brothers and I responded saying I don’t have any.
I’ll never forget this. He replied ‘you have me brother’.
I will never forget my experience at larche. It is the best time I have ever had while being slightly sleep deprived and I thank everyone who has gotten me involved in it, especially fr Niall and fr fergal. Thank you very much.