“Each person is sacred, no matter what his or her culture, religion, handicap, or fragility. Each person is created in God’s image; each one has a heart, a capacity to love and to be loved.”
These words are from a meditation in the prayer journal Magnificat. It appeared the Sunday after the news broke that the 2009 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize is Barack Obama. The meditation was striking not only for its truth and beauty, but also for its author: Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, an international network of homes for the developmentally disabled.
“We live in a culture that claims to revere individual rights but discriminates, routinely, against those who are the weakest among us: the unborn child and the person with severe disabilities,” Francis Maier, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver, who has a son with Down syndrome, told me. “For all our talk of tolerance, we have no tolerance for those who are imperfect and imperfectable by the standards of the world. Vanier — without ego, without fanfare — has devoted himself for decades to the vocation of loving and caring for the disabled. The only reliable kind of peace, the only peace worth having, is that which is loved into existence. Vanier has embodied that Christian love with the witness of his life.”
Sounds like the makings of a pitch for the 2010 Peace Prize.
Vanier doesn’t stand alone as a Catholic who would be a worthy potential Nobel Peace Prize recipient. There are countless Catholics who do the work of peace every day. And, unlike this year’s recipient, all of them defend the sanctity of human life from natural conception until natural death.
Consider Sister Genevieve Uwamariya of the community of St. Mary of Namur. She recently spoke to the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. Several members of her family were murdered in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Three years later, she went back to her birthplace to prepare prisoners — including several genocidal murderers — for the Jubilee Year. She urged them to allow themselves to be delivered from evil. One immediately stood up, confessing he had killed her father: “He gave me the details of the death of my loved ones,” she said at the synod. She not only forgave his grave trespass against her — she also thanked him for the peace he gave her. The prisoner replied: “Justice can do its work and can condemn me to death, but now I am free!”
And the list of deserving Catholics continues. There are priests like Bishop Macram Gassis of the Diocese of El Obeid in Sudan. Where there is hatred, he sows love. He does so in the face of genocide and the violence of Islamic fundamentalism. He does so with the Eucharist, with hospital care, with education. His life is always in danger.
There are other religious, such as Irish Sister Miriam Duggan of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa, who has been referred to as the “Mother Teresa of Africa.” Where there is doubt that simple love and sacrifice can amount to anything significant in the world, she saves lives by approaching every man and woman as her brother or sister in Christ, capable of discerning moral choices even in the most dire of circumstances.
If the prize committee wants another politician, they could do a lot worse than to choose Shabaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs. This Catholic is willing to die in pursuit of religious freedom, protecting his people from oppressive blasphemy laws that target non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
How about Chris and Joan Bell? They are raising adopted disabled children while keeping five other homes — Good Counsel homes for pregnant women — in the New York metropolitan area, providing light in darkness and inspiring hope against despair.
It probably doesn’t even need to be said, but why not Pope Benedict XVI? The world’s most visible and credible spiritual and moral leader, the Holy Father shepherds peace like no other.
Oslo had its reasons for choosing Obama. But were the Nobel Prize people looking for a true peacemaker? Next year, the nominating committee could give real peace a chance. They already have seven stars (or eight, if you count a couple as two) to start with.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a syndicated columnist.