Advocate of disabled wins $1.7 million Templeton Prize for 2015

Wed Mar 11, 2015 12:53pm EDT
 
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By Tom Heneghan

TROSLY-BREUIL, France (Reuters) - Jean Vanier, a Canadian who launched an international network of communities for the mentally disabled, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize worth $1.7 million for affirming life's spiritual dimension.

The U.S.-based John Templeton Foundation announced the award on Wednesday in London, calling him "this extraordinary man" whose message of compassion for society's weakest members "has the potential to change the world for the better".

Vanier, 86, founded the first L'Arche ("Ark") community in 1964 when he invited two mentally disabled men to leave their large institution and live with him in a small house in Trosly-Breuil, a village 95 km (60 miles) north of Paris.

His followers copied the idea of creating supportive households with the mentally handicapped so often that there are now 147 L'Arche communities operating in 35 countries.

"People with (mental) disabilities have been among the most oppressed and humiliated. They were called idiots," Vanier told Reuters at his home before the prize was announced. "But these are beautiful people, people of the heart. It's great to be together."

The Templeton Prize, which in previous years has gone to personalities such as Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama, is one of the world's richest with an award set always higher than the Nobel Prize.

Vanier, who lives modestly in the village where L'Arche started, said two associations that manage the network's projects would decide what to do with the prize money.

"It will certainly go to help the poorer communities, maybe the one in Bangladesh," he said.   Continued...

 
Jean Vanier, poses outside his home in Trosly-Breuil, in this picture taken March 7, 2015. Vanier, a Canadian who launched an international network of communities for the mentally disabled, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize worth $1.7 million for affirming life's spiritual dimension March 11, 2015. REUTERS/Tom Heneghan