JEAN Vanier, a Catholic author and theologian who founded L’Arche, an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize.
L’Arche is dedicated to the creation and growth of communities, programs and support networks for people with intellectual disabilities across the globe.
The movement began quietly in northern France in 1964, when Vanier invited two intellectually disabled men to come and live with him as friends, and has grown to include 147 L’Arche residential communities in 35 countries, and more than 1500 Faith and Light support groups in 82 countries that similarly urge solidarity among people with and without disabilities.
The announcement was made at a news conference on March 11 at the British Academy in London by the John Templeton Foundation, based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
Valued at about $1.7 million, 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.”
In his address to the media, Mr Vanier called for a “deeper unity of all people” to cope with a world that is both “evolving rapidly” and “in crisis”, but also cited much-welcomed change: “Change is gradually taking place, like a little seed in fertile earth, a seed of peace.”
“There is also a change in the way people with intellectual disabilities are seen.
“For many years these wonderful people were seen as ‘errors’, or as the fruit of evil committed by their parents or ancestors. … They were terribly humiliated and rejected.
“Today we are discovering that these people have a wealth of human qualities that can change the hearts of those caught up in the culture of winning and of power.”
Vanier, 86, was born 1928 in Geneva, the fourth of five children of Canadian parents, Major General Georges and Pauline (Archer) Vanier. His father was a highly decorated soldier in the First World War and later a diplomat who served as first secretary in the High Commission of Canada in London and as Canadian ambassador to France.
Vanier is also the author of more than 30 books, including the best-seller Becoming Human, all of which have been translated into 29 languages.
In his remarks at the news conference, Vanier recalled the story of a young woman he encountered in L’Arche’s early years named Pauline. “She came to our community in 1970, hemiplegic, epileptic, one leg and one arm paralysed, filled with violence and rage. … Our psychiatrist gave us good insight and advice: Her violence was a cry for friendship.
“For so long she had been humiliated, seen as hardly human, having no value, handicapped,” he said.
“What was important was that the assistants take time to be with her, listen to her and show their appreciation for her. Little by little she evolved and became more peaceful and responded to their love. Her violence disappeared … she loved to sing and to dance.
“It takes a long time to move from violence to tenderness, but “the assistants who saw her initially as a very difficult person, began to discover who she was under her violence and under her disabilities. They discovered that for a person, growth was not primarily climbing the ladder of power and success, but of learning to love people as they are.
“Love, in the words of St Paul, is to be patient, to serve, to bear all, to believe all and to hope all.”
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