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Jean Vanier: The intellectually disabled can teach us about freedom

2015-05-24

The 2015 Templeton Prize was recently awarded to Jean Vanier, who founded L’Arche in 1964. His organization provides homes and support programs for people with intellectual disabilities. During the ceremony on May 18th, Vanier discussed why communities are so significant to society. 

JEAN VANIER
FOUNDER, L'ARCHE 
"Community, what is it? It is mission, but it is also loving each other. Mission: community is mission. Mission for what? Mission about bringing people together so that we can recognize each other as precious. Mission and concern for each other, or love for each other.”

Vanier's organization encourages people without intellectual disabilities to live alongside those who do have them. He discussed what people can learn from each other by doing this.

JEAN VANIER
FOUNDER, L'ARCHE 
"Their gift is the gift of the heart. And one of their gifts is they're allowed to be crazy. We are not allowed to be crazy. We have to conform to what we should be. They can teach a little bit about freedom!”

He also joked about how he's learned how to be patient after living in community with others for more than half a century. 

JEAN VANIER
FOUNDER, L'ARCHE 
"It's not all that easy to love each other when you live with people. You know, they get your goat. They annoy you. I don't know how that happens with you, but I've been living in community 50 years. It's a mess! It's a mess! You know, to live together, I hear in families it's the same sort of thing everywhere.”

The $1.5 million award is given to someone whose work has enhanced "life’s spiritual dimension.” Vanier, who is Roman Catholic, said that learning from the disabled can help bring people to a world of peace.

JEAN VANIER
FOUNDER, L'ARCHE 
"We work to live the message, which is a beautiful message that those who are not endowed with great intellectual stuff, they are beautiful people. And they can teach us to love and break down the shackles of the need for power and lead us into a world, where there's a bit more peace.”

The 86-year-old Canadian started the organization when he invited two intellectually disabled men to live with him as friends. Thirty-five countries host nearly 150 L’Arche residential communities today.


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