Seek out the weak and the excluded

With the church at a crossroads, Catholics look to Pope Francis for guidance. Jean Vanier gives the new pope advice on reaching out to the least among us.

A few years ago I was invited to give a number of talks in Chile. At one moment, on the road from the airport to Santiago, my driver told me, “On the left of this road are all the slums of Santiago; on the right are the houses of the wealthy, protected by police and the military.” And then he added, “Nobody crosses this road.” Nobody crosses the road because everybody is consumed by fear.

My dream for the church is that the people of God—that is to say, all of us—may find the way across the road to meet those in pain, those who feel excluded and are violated. But we cannot cross the road alone; we need to be in community, we need help and material support.

We need to be together to face the drama of our world and build bridges between the haves and have-nots, between those on the road to success and those who cannot make it. Community is the place where we learn to love one another and live the commandment of Jesus, and it is where we discover the call to announce the Good News to the poor.

Another dream is that we, the people of God, learn to be with people with intellectual disabilities, not just wanting to look after them and give money for their well-being. By living together we will help them to discover their fundamental value. They have gifts to offer our societies and the church.

We can all learn from their simplicity and their beautiful capacity to relate and to have fun. Did not God choose the foolish and the weak and those who are the most dependent to confound those who are closed up in their heads, their ideas, and in their need for power? It is not just a question of struggling against their being aborted but of being committed to them in love.


My dream is that we will all become the face of Jesus, weak and humble of heart. My hope for Pope Francis is that he may join us all to make these dreams a reality.

I still have a lot to do to clear up the mess inside of me, and maybe others, too, have work to do. But did not God promise to change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh and put the Spirit in us? I think that Francis will encourage us to cross the road and I believe that he will be there with us. Let us hold his hand and be together.

This essay is part of a collection of experts’ advice to the new pope. To read more on how Pope Francis might address some of the pressing issues in today’s church, click here.

This article appeared in the May 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 5, pages 18-19).

Image: Adi Perets via Pexels


About the author

Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier was a Canadian Catholic philosopher, humanist, and writer, and the founder of L’Arche and Faith & Light, two international community-based organizations that embrace and support people with intellectual disabilities.

Add comment