IVP author Jean Vanier has been awarded the Templeton Prize, valued at $1.7 million. Vanier is the author, with Stanley Hauerwas, of Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness, and the founder of L'Arche, an international network of communities where people with and without learning disabilities experience life together as fellow human beings who share a mutuality of care and need. Started in 1964, L'Arche, French for "The Ark," now includes 147 communities in 35 nations and 1,500 Faith and Light support groups in 82 nations.
The Templeton Prize, one of the world's largest awards, is given annually to a living individual who "has made exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works." Previous recipients include Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Chuck Colson, among others.
At a press conference on March 11, Vanier said, "My dream for this magnificent prize you have given me, and through me to L'Arche and Faith and Light, is for us to create spaces and opportunities for meetings, which transform hearts. Places where they can share together, eat together, laugh and celebrate together, weep and pray together, where the hearts of those who carry power in our society can be melted and rest."
In Living Gently in a Violent World Vanier and Hauerwas write about what the church can learn from people with disabilities. Vanier writes, "Living in L'Arche I have learned that it is a revelation for people with disabilities if you say to them, 'There is meaning to your life.' We are not just doing good to them as professionals. That is important, but it's not just about that. It's about revealing to them that they have value. They have something to say to our society. In some mysterious way, they are calling to me, to us all, to change. I spoke some time ago in Aleppo in Syria, mainly to the Muslim community, and there was a mufti there who has since become the great mufti of Syria. When I finished he got up and said, 'If I have understood well, people with disabilities lead us to God.'
"We are afraid of showing weakness. We are afraid of not succeeding. Deep inside we are afraid of not being recognized. So we pretend we are the best. We hide behind power. We hide behind all sorts of things. However, when we meet people with disabilities and reveal to them through our eyes and ears and words that they are precious, they are changed. But we too are changed. We are led to God."
IVP Books Senior Editor Al Hsu, Vanier's acquiring editor, says, "Jean Vanier's life has been an inspiration to generations, and his work has fundamentally shifted how Christians think about disability. I am grateful for Jean's influence in the church and the world at large, that he has helped the world become a more hospitable place for people with special needs (like my younger son, who has Down syndrome). It is an honor to count Jean as one of our authors, and we all congratulate him on this worthy recognition."
Vanier continues to live on the grounds of the original L'Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, north of Paris. On May 18 he will receive the Templeton Prize at a public ceremony at the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.