Marie-Hélène Mathieu was proposed as a candidate for the Public Peace Prize. SUPPORT THEIR CANDIDATURE BY SHARING YOUR STORIES ABOUT WHY THEY DESERVE TO WIN. How is this person working for peace and reconciliation in their region using their capacities? ONCE WE HAVE RECEIVED TEN SUPPORTING COMMENTS, THIS PERSON WILL BE OFFICIALLY NOMINATED FOR THE PUBLIC PEACE PRIZE.
I have chosen to present Marie-Hélène Mathieu, an inspiring woman who I had the joy of meeting in the early 1970s in Trosly-Breuil (at the community of L’Arche – The Ark – founded by Jean Vanier), at the end of the first Lourdes pilgrimage organized by Faith and Light. Faced with the suffering of the parents of two children with a serious disability who had felt marginalised at Lourdes, she launched a remarkable pilgrimage to Lourdes with Jean Vanier for people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends.
From this extraordinary gesture, Faith and Light, an international association currently present in over 1,500 communities in 80 countries, was born.
Marie-Hélène Mathieu, born in 1929 and still alive today, offers her testimony:
When I was a child there was a girl in my class called Alice, who was very marginalised. One day when we had been particularly cruel and she was crying, I sensed the suffering behind her sorrowful face. I would have liked to have consoled her…. Or one day to console other people like her in their distress. Alice unwittingly guided me towards a school for special needs teachers. Through my studies I was able to meet Father Bissonnier, the pioneer of a new form of catechism adapted to people with disabilities. My work with him helped me discover, beyond appearances, the uniqueness of the individual, who is loved by God and called to share His glory. He transmitted a desire to help each person with a disability to discover their vocation, but also to support parents in their task, which is so hard and yet so beautiful. A tragic event therefore acted as the trigger. A couple who had ended the life of their child, born without arms, had been acquitted and greeted triumphantly. I was part of a general coming of awareness by kick-starting a collective work: “They have the right to live!”
Immediately afterwards, I was driven to create OCH so it could come to the aid of families, and I did this with the spiritual support of Marthe Robin. In 1966, my discovery of L’Arche community helped me, in turn, to discover a new dimension in our relationship with the weakest ones. A life of contact with such people revealed a new meaning to life and profoundly changed you. “Faith and Light” would share this same spirituality through a community of alliances.
Marie-Hélène Mathieu and Jean Vanier. Never Again Alone!: The Adventure of Faith and Light from 1971 Until Today, WestBow Press. 2014, 312 p.
The trigger: In 1962, the “Liège Trial” concluded with the acquittal of parents who had killed their profoundly-disabled baby daughter. The announcement of the verdict was met with scenes of jubilation. The violence of the event deeply shook society in both Belgium and France.
It was in this context that Marie-Hélène Mathieu founded OCH in 1963. The Foundation aims to support families, encourage a response to their distress and offer them new hope, particularly through the introduction of a permanent place of welcome and financial support for Christian associations and establishments.
In 1968, alongside the lectures and meetings, Marie-Hélène Mathieu created Ombres et Lumière, the OCH magazine aimed at people with disabilities, their families and friends. The magazine’s reach and influence would exceed expectations.
In addition to OCH and Faith and Light, Marie-Hélène Mathieu was involved in creating the Simon de Cyrène Foundation for people who have suffered a severe head injury. She is also one of the founders of Relais Lumière Espérance, which is aimed at close friends and relatives of people suffering from mental illness, as well as the Groupe de liaison Saint Joseph, which twice a year brings together around twenty organisations working to found and support Christian homes for adults with intellectual disabilities. In the same spirit, the Pierre-François Jamet Working and Communion Group, which she launched with Xavier Le Pichon, enables around thirty small communities to meet and supports them in their care for people suffering from psychological distress.
Marie-Hélène Mathieu was appointed by Pope John-Paul II to the Pontifical Council for the Laity (1984-1989) and as expert for the Holy See at the Council of Europe. She is the first woman to have given a Lent address at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris (in 1988). Pope Benedict XVI appointed her auditor to the synod on the Eucharist (2005).
Aware of the plight of the weakest and their families, Marie-Hélène Mathieu is an agent of peace who leaves traces of light and peace wherever she goes.
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