But this year’s winner, Jean Vanier, 86, deserves the recognition of all parents of children with disabilities. He was awarded the $1.7 million prize for founding L’Arche, an international network of communities for people with cognitive disabilities who live alongside people without disabilities. This amazing project began in 1964 when Vanier and his wife Pauline invited two adults with cognitive disabilities to live in their home in France. It evolved into today’s network of 147 communities in 35 countries and on all 5 continents.
The prize itself was the initiative of John Templeton, a mutual fund pioneer from Tennessee who amassed a fortune before his death in 2008. He sought to recognize a category of achievements overlooked by the Nobel Prize – the spiritual.
...what I’m financing is humility. I want people to realize that you shouldn’t think you know it all.In Vanier’s acceptance speech entitled “Transforming Our Hearts”, he said:
It is here that I want to speak of what we have learned in L'Arche and Faith and Light. As you know, people with intellectual disabilities are not able to assume important roles of power and of efficacy. They are essentially people of the heart. When they meet others they do not have a hidden agenda for power or for success. Their cry, their fundamental cry, is for a relationship, a meeting heart to heart. It is this meeting that awakens them, opens them up to life, and calls them forth to love in great simplicity, freedom and openness. When those ingrained in a culture of winning and of individual success really meet them, and enter into friendship with them, something amazing and wonderful happens. They too are opened up to love and even to God. They are changed at a very deep level. They are transformed and become more fundamentally human.I was not at all surprised to learn that my own country is not among the 35 blessed with L’Arche communities. And I can’t envisage it joining the list any time soon (just as I can’t imagine the folks here selecting a band of musicians with cognitive disabilities to represent us in a song contest – a la Finland).
After all, in these parts, isolating our citizens with disabilities in large institutions is still a thriving practice. We have a long way to go.