Raphaël Simi, Co-founder of L’Arche
Raphael could not teach me French and could not answer the phone for me. He could not do anything except for being my friend and standing by me - and that’s what he did. He came to the office everyday, made us coffee, hugged me and gave me a kiss to remind me he thought about me. It did not matter to him whether I spoke French or not. He was not interested in my successes or failures as a community leader. I was here, and that was enough for him. (George Durner, Regional Coordinator, France)
Raphaël, son of a grocer, was born in 1928, in Marseille. Three years later, his family moved to the south of Paris where he grew up with his brother and his sister. As a young boy, he suffered from polio as well as from a neurological disease which left him hemiplegics. He was well-treated by his family, but when his mother died in 1962, his brother and sister placed him in an institution. He was unhappy and remembered that he missed his family and the outside world and had nothing to do where he was.
Fortunately, he only stayed for two years in this institution, up until 1964, when Jean Vanier welcomed him, and another man, Philippe Seux, into a house he named L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil. Soon, Raphaël started to work in a sheltered workshop. He remained in touch with his brother and sister until their deaths.
In 1975, when Raphaël was 47 years old, he expressed his need for more peace and quiet and asked to go and live in the new community of La Rose des Vents. Some 13 years later, at the age of 60, Raphaël retired from work, but still found lots of things to do to occupy his time: he gave a helping hand in the community and attended the occupational therapy workshop on a regular basis to do collage and painting.
His health deteriorated badly in the winter of 2003. He was admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia and passed away during the night of 23 March 2003.
Raphaël was an extremely sensitive person, showing great tenderness, especially towards children. As remembers George Durner, former Community leader of L’Arche La Rose des Vents:
“For Raphael and the other people we took care of at Rose des Vents, whether I was competent or not in carrying out my duties did not matter. (…) I was simply invited to be there. That was the only expectation that Raphael and the others had. (…) They helped me realise that I was still somebody, that I was a precious and loveable person even when I did not succeed in anything. (…) If, of the two of us, I was the most autonomous, Raphael was the strongest, and in many situations, the more mature one. And he knew it.”