Charity,  Faith,  Hope
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By Guest Columnist/cleveland.com According to Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the Nobel Peace Prizes enjoy exceptional prestige and “may perhaps attract as much international attention and publicity as all the other Nobel Prizes.” Highly respected, often inspiring and widely publicized, these prizes have also been controversial, from the first one in 1901 to the current, most recent award, as suggested by Bloomberg View columnist Mark Champion (Plain Dealer, Oct. 13). Champion points out that Malala Yousafzai, the heroic teenager from Pakistan, “clearly should have received the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, rather than the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemicals.” Indeed, there were 259 nominations in 2013, which undoubtedly included some highly deserving candidates. Consider Padre Pedro Opeka, born in Argentina to Slovenian parents and educated in Buenos Aires, Slovenia and France. He was nominated from Madagascar, several African and European countries, Australia, and America. Often compared to Mother Teresa... and featured in many French, German, Slovenian and Spanish books and film documentaries, he worked even as a teenager among the poorest Indian tribes in South America. He gained international admiration for his humanitarian accomplishments in Madagascar. In 1989, he left a leading position at a Vincentian theological seminary in order to devote his life completely to the poorest of the poor, the "trash people" who lived in a garbage dump of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. A bricklayer’s son, he taught them how to make bricks and build houses. Today, over 23,000 former garbage people live in individual homes in 17 clean and attractive villages where, paying off mortgages in small installments, they become proud self-supporting homeowners and productive members of Akamasoa (Good Friends) communities. The 17 villages have all the necessary infrastructure, including many production shops and schools from nurseries to junior college, attended by over 10,500 students in 2012. In four hospitals and four maternity wards over 35,000 patients were treated during the last year alone. There is also a Welcome Center for the destitute transient visitors where so far over 300,000 persons have received food, clothing, medical help and counseling. Writers, journalists, film makers, benefactors such as Prince Albert of Monaco and Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of the then-president of France, and tourists have watched in amazement the results of Pedro’s total dedication to the poor and his organizational wizardry, which has transformed the most destitute poor into self-respecting, joyfully working, voting and responsible, self-supporting citizens. A small group of Clevelanders, from SZA-Catholic Mission Aid Society, managed to arrange for the publication of the first English-language book, titled "Padre Pedro: Apostle of Hope," now available on Amazon.com and from Barnes & Noble bookstores. The leading French magazine Paris Match called Pedro “a mason of God.” American astronaut Jerry Linenger, M.D., Ph.D., expressed his admiration for Pedro’s “sacrifices and accomplishments on behalf of the poor and for his inspiring leadership in the struggle for human betterment, brotherhood and peace.” Sister Marie Paule, originally from Madagascar and now at Lourdes Shrine in Euclid, Ohio, says simply, “Pedro is a living saint.” And Harvard-educated Mark Zupan, Dean of the Simon School of Business at Rochester University, who also nominated him for Nobel Peace Prize, describes Pedro’s accomplishments as “nothing short of a miracle which is the result of his profound humanitarian commitment and organizational wizardry.” Many admirers and supporters throughout the world hope that Pedro, either alone or together with one or two other leading humanitarians, will be selected for one of the future awards and thus inspire more transforming miracles among the poorest of the poor around the world, including in the poverty- and crime-ridden slums of European and American cities. Edward Gobetz is professor emeritus of sociology at Kent State University The emeritus professor at Kent State University writes that Father Pedro Opeka's humanitarian work among the poor of Madagascar must not be overlooked when the next Nobel Peace Prize is awarded.

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