In February I wrote a piece about Jean Vanier which began, "What to do when too many people might come to your funeral?"
At the time we were preparing to release our film about Jean and the organisation he founded, L'Arche, called SUMMER IN THE FOREST. We had spent the day with Eileen Glass, a vivacious lady who is in charge of Fundraising and Development for L’Arche Australia. As part of our time together, Eileen shared with us about Jean's extraordinary life. It was clear from her personal stories about Jean, whom she had known for many years, and from the film itself, that Jean was deeply beloved and cherished within his organisation, if not positively revered.
In fact, Eileen confided to us that the international leaders of L’Arche had realised that they must prepare well for Jean’s death, because if there was not a very clear strategy in place, then thousands upon thousands of people would come from around the world and converge upon his small home of Trosly-Breuil in France.
At the time I found this fact to be profoundly impacting—the logistical need to stem an outpouring of love because it would be too big. Because Jean Vanier was not a fashionable superstar. He was not a Kardashian. He was not a world leader. He was a gentle, unhurried, quietly spoken man who lived out of sight in a very small place and who had done nothing traditionally news-breaking or globally attention-grabbing.
All he had done, essentially, was to love people.
He did not invent a new kind of life-saving technology. He did not run a billion dollar company. What he did was to live a very quiet life, and love people. But that in itself was enough to impact the world, and history. According to Catholic Outlook he was the "initiator of a genuine revolution of love for disabled people," and the Catholic Herald called his life one of "exceptional fruitfulness." And so his board members had to convene meetings so that they could figure out how to get hundreds of thousands of people not to come and pay their respects to him if he died.
Turns out that the simple act of being present and loving people as they are, is more impacting than any social media campaign, celebrity status, or even radical world-saving political policy could ever be.
And then Jean Vanier did pass away. He went quietly from this world on the 7th May, aged 90. His intimate funeral in Trosly was streamed around the world. There were memorial services in multiple countries. Thousands and thousands of people did pour out their grief, just as expected.
SUMMER IN THE FOREST continues to screen in both Australia and New Zealand, and now people are coming to see it to pay him poignant tribute, or to remember him with intense fondness. They tell us that seeing him on the big screen in vivid detail is to be reminded how vivid, how revolutionary he was in real life.
Jean said, "To love people is to reveal to them that they have value."
It's that simple. And it is that revolutionary. It completely rocks the world.
Forget success, forget fame. There's only one way to truly make waves in this life. Thank you Jean, for showing us how it's done.
SUMMER IN THE FOREST continues to be shown in many cinemas in Australia and New Zealand as part of special Q&A screenings to raise money for L'Arche.
To find out more, or if you would like to host your own screening, follow the links in this blog or go to