Elysée Palace, Paris
Tuesday 25th November 2003
Mr President of the Universal Academy of Cultures,
Dear Elie Wiesel,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Father Ceyrac is a man I have admired and loved for a very long time. Our families have long-term ties. We both come from the same area. I received here his brother Charles seven years ago, a few weeks before his death, who was also for my wife and I a very close friend. We naturally talked together of Corrèze, where your roots are, in Meyssac, that you left as you were a young Jesuit to go to India to accomplish your missionary vocation. That is why I am particularly pleased to welcome you tonight.
By choosing Father Ceyrac, the Universal Academy of Cultures demonstrates discernment, which I want to congratulate. Our world is a place where efficiency, money, productivity and consumer society play a predominant role, that is a fact. Your Assembly has the duty to introduce to our contemporaries others visions, other examples, to remind them of others values such as altruism and generosity.
Our world is hit by a growing inequality between those who have everything and those who have nothing. It would be excessive to say that poverty grows because of globalisation. This is not true. But it is true that benefits of globalisation remain inequally distributed and that the concept of international solidarity is losing momentum. Introducing to the world Father Ceyrac's life and projects is part of this necessary effort our fellow citizens adhere to, as we can see.
Our world of opening and melting of people and ideas is also a world of physical and cultural struggles and communitarism. The growth, even in our country, of racist, xenophobic and antisemitic movements demonstrates the existence of a plague we have to fight relentlessly because it always reappears. Choosing Father Ceyrac is choosing a man who dedicated his life to the dialogue between cultures, to humanity, to universality. It shows that the ideal of fraternity between peoples and human beings, above any notion of culture, religion or nationality, is not a utopia.
By giving your Prize to Father Ceyrac, you are giving a concrete answer to some dysfunctions of your world. You demonstrate your optimism, your hope, your faith in future. The unsayable events many of you have endured give to this affirmation a particular strength.
I want to thank you all, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Academy, for a choice that illustrates well the role you were given. Because of the acceleration our world is experiencing, passions are stronger, immediately transmitted all around the world. More than ever, we need women and men dedicated to reflexion and ideal.
We need places of conscience that remind our societies of universal values, that incitate each of us to look further than everyday life, to think about the ethical consequences of the technological and economic changes we face. We need high voices that rise when atrocities are to be committed, when societies threaten to betray their own ideals. We need educative systems whose priority is the transmission of these universal values that are necessary to maintain peace.
I am moved to give you this Prize of the Universal Academy of Cultures. Moved, the word is slight, you know it. Here you are, surrounded by your brothers, and I have in mind a thousand souvenirs. Here you are and I am pleased the Academy has managed to see, behind your modesty, the defender of fraternity who fights day after day, pacifically and with obstination, to give their dignity back to those who think they have lost it, to make them master of their destiny, to present them a path of freedom and joy they could not even imagine.
You are like these women and men whose strenght of charity and love fights misery. How could I not evocate, when I see you, Saint Vincent de Paul and Mother Teresa, so loved by the French?
In India, people say you are a legend. I have heard that several times. And if you are asked about your life, you do not answer, with the humility of a man of faith. We can say that India has taught you everything, and you acknowledge it, and you speak of this country and its poor people, of Mahatma Gandhi you have personally known and whose actions and life have inspired you so much.
Since you arrived in Madras in 1937, you have chosen to be for the others. To be, all your life long, a father for those tens of thousand of Indian orphans your association provides with food and education. And love above all. Because the experience of being loved is, as you said, essential. You say you receive as much as you give, by loving the children and working with them. How could we allow them better to recognize their dignity?
Education provided by your centers puts them aside mendicity and assistance. Because you want to set them free. Man, acting for his own freedom: this is the motto that leads your life, the compass of your long trip in the Indian sub-continent.
In 1967, you decided to act as Bihar was hurt by a terrible starvation. The Indian national organisation of students you were in charge of decides to build the farm of Manamadurai. Today, this farm uses every technical and technological innovations and allows the poorest to provide their family with food. This farm is a symbol. Instead of a fertile land that anyone could have easily cultivated, you chose a bad and rude land; land that became cultivable and keep all its promisses.
Then you met a young Indian, Kalei, who came to you one night to ask for help. He had adopted 38 orphans but did not have enough money to feed them. You welcomed them. Today, they are 31,000, boys and girls, orphans or born in families too poor to raise them.
Your association, "Anbukarangal", hands of love in tamul, provides them with accomodation, food and education. You welcomed the dalits, rejected from everywhere, you welcomed 300 children whose parents had received life sentence. You want to give them back their dignity and you succeed in doing it. You struggle for Human rights, for the right to be a human being. You think everyone owns this right, without any discrimination of cast, color, religion or language. You have a very good knowledge of the Indian culture, that you discovered at university, in Toulouse, when you learnt sanskrit, to read the Upanisads. You tackled India like a mystery of a great beauty, not like a great problem. This is the secret of empathy.
Your action, started 60 years ago, is going on. Roads, wells, hospitals, orphanages, farms, reeducation centers for children, your actions are huge and do not stop growing.
In the year 2000, the Universal Academy of Cultures, engaged in the great and difficult struggle for freedom, peace and dignity, gave its Prize for the first time. It decided to reward actions and people who were fighting intolerance, xenophobia, discrimination against women, racism, antisemitism, misery and ignorance.
Father Ceyrac, you are a man who fights misery. A man who fights every day, using the strenght of his faith and love, against the fatalities that hit the human condition. You are a man that brings a future, conscious, like Camus, that "if Man fails to conciliate justice and freedom, then he fails at everything".
For this struggle you have been leading for nearly 70 years, we would not believe it when we see you, a struggle you lead in the name of the generations you gave dignity and hope back, in the name of all the men you are urging to believe in the human being, I am very pleased and honored to give you, at the request of the Academy and its President, the Prize of the Universal Academy of Cultures.