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Jean Vanier awarded 2015 Templeton Prize

13 March 2015

JOHN MORRISON/TEMPLETON PRIZE

Winner: Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche communities for people with mental disabilities, has been awarded the 2015 Templeton Prize

Winner: Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche communities for people with mental disabilities, has been awarded the 2015 Templeton Prize

THE Canadian philosopher Jean Vanier, who founded a network of communities for people with developmental disabilities, has been awarded the Templeton Prize.

Mr Vanier established the worldwide L'Arche movement of homes, where people with and without disabilities live together. On Wednesday, it was announced that he had won the 2015 Templeton Prize, valued at £1.1 million, for his contribution to "affirming life's spiritual dimension". The prize will be awarded on 18 May at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

Mr Vanier, aged 86, is a Roman Catholic. He briefly served in both the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy before abandoning a military life in favour of academic philosophy in Paris and then Toronto. He is the author of more than 30 books.

It was in 1964, in France, during visits to psychiatric hospitals and institutions, that the idea for L'Arche was born. Mr Vanier invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave their institutions and share their lives with him in a household in Trosly-Breuil, France. He named their home "L'Arche".

Gradually, other communities spread across the world: there are now 146, including 11 in Britain.

The Templeton Prize was established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton, to reward those who pursue the "big questions of human purpose and ultimate reality". The value of the prize is set continually to exceed that of the Nobel prizes, emphasising Sir John's view that spiritual discoveries were more valuable than scientific ones.

Mr Vanier said that the secret of L'Arche was that it transformed the lives of those without disabilities as much as those with them. "People who came to do good discovered that the people with disabilities are doing them good: they are becoming more human.

"And so, when those who are moving up to the top through education meet those who are at the bottom of society . . . There's a spark, and both groups change."

Archbishop Welby described L'Arche communities as turning "society's assumptions about the strong and the weak upside down.

"Those the world considers 'weak', through their disabilities, are those who bring hope and strength. . . . Those who are 'strong' discover they need the 'weak'. This is nothing less than the Kingdom of heaven come to earth, as Jesus prayed it would."

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