Sister Vilma Franco, age 32, will profess perpetual vows this fall. She was born in El Salvador and lives with four sisters in Spokane. She is studying English as a Second Language (ESL) at Spokane Falls Community College in preparation to begin a program in early childhood education.
As a Sister of Providence from El Salvador, God is calling me in different ways to serve him. I began volunteering at the L’Arche community of Spokane when I started studying child development disabilities at Spokane Falls Community College.
I had never had the experience of being close to people with disabilities, especially people with Down syndrome. When I saw them the first time, I had many questions such as how to approach them and how to communicate with them. What a surprise! They welcomed me with the joy, happiness and freedom of who they are. That touched my heart because they share who they are without hiding anything. They express their joy, their friendship and their love for others with the most amazing smiles that touch the hearts of people who are close to them.
It is my experience that people with Down syndrome or with other disabilities are an example for us of how to live moment by moment, by accepting our own disabilities.
It is amazing to see the sense of community and all the support the L’Arche community gives to people with development disabilities like Down syndrome. We can see the face of God in them. They are a prayerful people. For example, they pray before meals and they don’t only pray for themselves, they pray for others, as well as for their families. They also have responsibilities such as helping to cook, working in the garden, cleaning the house and washing the dishes. They do their chores with happiness and joy.
After being with them only once, my heart fell in love with them and I wanted to share my love and friendship with them like they shared their friendship with me. I know that everyone who comes to L’Arche is immediately impressed by the spirit of joy that prevails there. However, living in community brings opposite experiences of joy and suffering. It is my experience that both emotions have moments of great intensity and bring gifts of reconciliation and healing.
The most important characteristic in the L’Arche communities is the mutual relationships that are formed between the educators and the people. All accept each person as a unique and valuable individual, whatever his or her abilities or disabilities. That’s why they act with open hearts and spirits which express the spirituality and vocation of L’Arche.