Jean Vanier Wins 2015 Templeton Prize

Vanier 1 portrait (Credit-Templeton Prize John Morrison)

Photo by Templeton Prize, John Morrison

Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, a revolutionary international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize.

L’Arche encourages people toward mutually transformative relationships, where those who help are transformed by those they encounter. Vanier discovered that those people who society typically considers the weakest enable the strong to recognize and welcome their own vulnerability.

What began quietly in northern France in 1964, when Vanier invited two intellectually disabled men to come and live with him as friends, has now grown into 147 L’Arche residential communities operating in 35 countries, and more than 1,500 Faith and Light support groups in 82 countries that similarly urge solidarity among people with and without disabilities.

Vanier, 86, has extended his advocacy of belonging and social justice, with years of leadership efforts across the globe to nurture dialogue and unity among Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and other faiths through lectures, conferences and retreats around the world. His scholarship includes more than 30 books translated into 29 languages.

Valued at £1.1 million (about $1.7 million or €1.5 million), the Prize is one of the world’s largest annual awards given to an individual and honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. The announcement was made at a news conference today at the British Academy in London by the John Templeton Foundation, based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. The Prize is a cornerstone of the Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to human purpose and ultimate reality.

Vanier’s five decades of living with deeply vulnerable people have led him to an understanding of weakness and common humanity. This learned wisdom reflects the essence of the Big Questions that have become a hallmark of the Prize and continue the legacy of its founder Sir John Templeton, the late global investor and philanthropist, in encouraging and recognizing spiritual progress. In videos available on the Prize website, www.templetonprize.org, Vanier examines topics including the potential transformative power revealed through the practice and struggle of love, and “What does it mean to be fully human?”

“To become fully human is to let down the barriers, to open up and discover that every person is beautiful. Under all the jobs you’re doing, responsibilities, there is you,” Vanier answers, adding, “And you, at the heart of who you are, you’re somebody also crying out, ‘does somebody love me?’ Not just for what I can do, but for who I am.”

In remarks prepared for today’s announcement, Vanier made a plea for global peace. “Before being Christians or Jews or Muslims, before being Americans or Russians or Africans, before being generals or priests, rabbis or imams, before having visible or invisible disabilities, we are all human beings with hearts capable of loving.”

Jennifer Simpson, the daughter of Foundation president and chairman Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr. and granddaughter of Sir John Templeton, noted that Vanier brought a much-needed perspective to how the power of love can advance spiritual progress in the world. “By recognizing the importance of every individual, regardless of their station in life, Jean Vanier underscores how each of us has the ability not only to lift up others, but also ourselves,” she said. “His powerful message and practice of love has the potential to change the world for the better, just as it has already changed the lives of countless individuals who have been touched by this extraordinary man.”

In nominating Vanier for the prize, John Swinton, Professor in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care in the Divinity School at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, said: “One can conceive of L’Arche and Faith and Light as living laboratories where Vanier essentially exposed his ideas to the most challenging test of all – real people, real problems, and real life.”

Jean Vanier joins a distinguished group of 44 former recipients, including Mother Teresa, who received the inaugural Prize award in 1973, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1983), and Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor (2007). Last year’s Templeton Prize recipient, Czech priest and philosopher Tomáš Halík, followed Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, in 2013 and the 2012 Templeton Laureate, the Dalai Lama.

Vanier, who continues to live on the grounds of the original L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, north of Paris, will be formally awarded the Templeton Prize at a public ceremony at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London on Monday, May 18.

 

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