Jean Vanier Wins 2015 Templeton PrizeArticles
The 2015 Templeton Prize has been awarded to Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, a revolutionary network of communities in which people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers. Vanier embodies the three key qualities celebrated by the award, explained Jennifer Simpson, the granddaughter of Sir John Templeton, when the announcement was made at the British Academy in London on March 11: he is an entrepreneur of the spirit whose accomplishments include insight, discovery, and practical works.
If Vanier’s contribution to spiritual progress—his philosophy of life—could be summed up in a single idea, one candidate would be that of meeting. Vanier has been living with the vulnerable since he invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to live with him as friends in 1964. At the heart of the L’Arche communities that have emerged from that meeting, he says, is the table. The table is a place where the insider and outsider, the visible and invisible, can be met in love. Such encounters between human beings bring down the walls of fear that otherwise come between them. “No more treating people as evil or just to be pushed away as having no value,” he pleas. “It is only as we meet and share together person to person, eye to eye and heart to heart that we discover what it means to be human.”
“For peace, people must meet across differences,” he continues. “I say to meet people, not just to send them money and offer better professionals. All need to change. Fear must be changed into openness. Those on the rich side need to change and open their hearts to those on the other side. Those on the needy side need to change; from anger, anguish, depression, and a sense of being victims of a society, they must become agents of hope and of love. They too need to be awoken to love.”
Vanier himself was changed by living with those who are often regarded as invisible, and this led to a further discovery: that caring helps the carers. The individuals who came to join his way of life at L’Arche discovered that the people they came to help were doing them good. “As we come together to listen we become, all of us, more human,” he explains. L’Arche communities, after the French for “ark” and “arch,” now number 147 in 35 countries, alongside more than 1,500 Faith and Light support groups in 82 countries.
Vanier has written about his vision, faith, and experience in more than 30 books, translated into 29 languages. His ideas can also be explored in videos on the Templeton Prize website, where he addresses the Big Questions that are a hallmark of the award, including such inquires as what it means to be human and how love transforms us.
The prize was widely reported in the world’s press. The Montreal Gazette called it a “well deserved honor,” adding “may his example continue to inspire.” Reflecting on Vanier’s Templeton Prize video, “What does it mean to be fully human?,” The Atlantic remarked that “[h]is answer is worthy of our attention.” The Washington Post cited John Swinton, the divinity professor at Aberdeen University who nominated Vanier for the award: “Vanier essentially exposed his ideas to the most challenging test of all—real people, real problems, and real life.” “L’Arche is a lifestyle, filled with moments joyful and mundane,” continued the Huffington Post, quoting L’Arche assistant Heather Bixler: “It is also an idea, an alternative way of understanding one another and the world, manifested through small, daily acts of care and generosity.” The Catholic Herald said that Vanier and L’Arche “have a simple but vital message for society,” and French newspaper Le Point celebrated this year’s winner as one of the “great Catholic consciences” of our time. The Guardian noted that Vanier’s work is not a book (though he has written many) but a community: “Vanier teaches, in word and deed, that the strong must let themselves be rebuked by the weak.”
Vanier will receive the 2015 Templeton Prize at a public ceremony in London on May 18, 2015. He is the 45th laureate, joining previous winners including the Dalai Lama (2012), Mother Teresa (1973), and Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor (2007). The award, worth £1.1 million, is the cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to human purpose and ultimate reality. Nominations for the 2016 prize can be made online, and are due July 1, 2015.