Award winners are to be individuals whose attitudes and actions have effected a stimulation of creative processes and have promoted the capacity of people and societies to develop by means of respectful dialogue with others, including the protection of inalienable human rights and support for the idea of solidarity and social justice. Candidates for the Award should be highly active in the promotion of attitudes of active toleration, treating cultural diversity as an asset and not a cause for exclusion, and should take action towards spreading knowledge of values and norms respected by various cultural groups.
An Award winner should also demonstrate effective action for the transformation of conflict situations into situations with the possibility of cooperation and coexistence of individuals or groups which represent different cultural traditions, while recognising the need for expansion of intercultural dialogue, and a deeper understanding of different viewpoints and practices. In this respect, the active stance of the candidate in terms of creating space for intercultural dialogue and for the acquisition of intercultural competence will be crucial.
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe – the first winner of the Veritatis Splendor Award
The Małopolska Region Award of John Paul II Veritatis Splendor 2016 went to Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe.
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe is from the region of Paidha in Uganda, where she began to serve her country’s inhabitants and the Church by joining the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1976. Its headquarters is Juba, capital of the youngest African nation, South Sudan. Sister Rosemary came into her calling and began to realise the ideals of a nun’s life during the worst years for this region of Africa; civil wars, violence, murder and kidnapping of the local population, including women and children, were part of daily life in Uganda, Sudan, Congo and Chad for years. Sister Rosemary decided to fight back, armed with sewing machines donated by an aid foundation. In 2001 she became director of St. Monica’s School, whose mission was to provide aid to young girls who had escaped from captivity or persecution by Joseph Kony and those fighting for the Lord’s Resistance Army. The organization is known for its incredible brutality and terror in this part of Africa.
Since 2012, Sister Rosemary has given shelter, freedom, education and above all a sense of dignity and hope to over 2000 girls who had previously suffered rape, beatings and imprisonment by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony.
Besides teaching the girls basic skills such as sewing, housework and home management, she gives them hope and a chance at a normal life, ensuring the minimum material security needed to start to their adult lives. Her students also make wallets and purses from pop tabs, and the income from sales is devoted entirely to charity.
The greatest success of Sister Rosemary and the school is the way they teach the girls – victims of civil war – mutual support through the growth of vocational education. Today, nearly 250 girls are preparing for adulthood in two locations: at the campus of St. Monica’s School in the town of Gulu, and a second, smaller group at a sister school in Atiak, also in Uganda. Sister Rosemary would like to open a similar centre in South Sudan.
About herself, Sister Rosemary says: “I am not here to speak or cry out about the pain of these women. It can no longer be an option for us, but an obligation to become engaged in healing the world of these women, in order to allow them to stride in hope towards a better tomorrow! I ask each person of influence in the world to help heal the world together, starting from a single woman, from a single child.”
The sister’s actions and work are an ideal reflection of St. John Paul II’s teachings in his Veritatis Splendor encyclical. The joyful truth of Christian faith, to which she owes her deeply humane character and unusual straightforward manner, makes her the ideal candidate for this award. She not only lives in the “light of truth”, but gives the gift of herself to girls who are excluded from society and marginalised. Sister Rosemary has wisely and consistently interpreted the evangelical obligation to love thy neighbour; for these abandoned women, she is not only a teacher, but, more importantly, a mother. She not only gives them a literal roof over their heads and food on their plates, but something much more: she sees in them the exceptional dignity of a human person, and discovers in them the real humanity of mankind. There are very few who can protect the girls’ inner goodness and see the image of God in their tired faces. Her love and devotion are the result of her serious approach to her calling.
Sister Rosemary’s work has been recognized by many prominent people, organizations, magazines and even universities. In 2012, she was invited by the Clintons to the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, and, in addition to being named one of TIME magazine’s most influential women in 2014, she was also named a “CNN Hero” in 2007. Due to her work, she has been invited on numerous programs and mentioned in news reports around the world in order to give interviews and speak about the problems of Africa and Uganda in particular. She has participated in Tina Brown’s prestigious Women in the World program, and has appeared on the Charlie Rose show, at the Catholic News Conference in Buffalo, the 2014 Urban World Film Festival, the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival, Arise News Headlines and many, many others. She has also been invited to speak at numerous universities.