The John Templeton Foundation has announced Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers, as the winner of the 2015 Templeton Prize.
Valued at £1.1 million ($1.7 million), the prize recognizes a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.
L'Arche encourages mutually transformative relationships in which people who offer help to others are transformed by the people they help. Vanier discovered that people whom society typically considers the most vulnerable enable those who are perceived to be less vulnerable to recognize and embrace their own vulnerability. What began in northern France in 1964, when Vanier invited two intellectually disabled men to come and live with him as friends, has grown into a hundred and forty-seven L'Arche residential communities in thirty-five countries and more than fifteen hundred Faith and Light support groups in eighty-two countries that similarly urge solidarity among people with and without disabilities.
Vanier has spent five decades promoting his message of belonging and social justice, nurturing dialogue and unity among Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and others through lectures, conferences, and retreats. His scholarship includes more than thirty books that have been translated into twenty-nine languages. "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 said. "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."
"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," said Jennifer Simpson, daughter of the foundation's president and chair, John M. Templeton, Jr. "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."