Irish Columban missionary, Fr Shay Cullen SSC, was in Kerkrade in the Netherlands at the weekend to receive the 2017 Martin Buber Award in recognition of his internationally acclaimed work on human rights in the Philippines since he arrived there in 1969. The award was presented during the annual International Festival of Dialogue - EURIADE.
Professor Martin Buber was a Jewish philosopher who advocated peace dialogue, mutual recognition of human rights and dignity, and a united Jewish and Arab Palestine. He became well known internationally for his 'dialogical principle'. He died in 1965, and the prestigious award in his memory was initiated in 2002 with German Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher as the inaugural recipient. Since then, recipients have included Queen Silvia of Sweden, President Klaus Johannis of Romania, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Prince Irene of the Netherlands, and Karl-heinz Böhm, founder of the Austrian Menschen für Menschen Foundation for Ethiopia.
Fr Adrian Lenglet OSB, Abbot of the Abbey Saint Benedictusberg reading the citation told the audience and Fr Shay: "The difficulties you encountered in your fight to rescue children, minors and women from the hand of their abusers, are unimaginable to most of us. Social structures, governmental laws, international sex-mafias, personal enmities and blank opposition were and still are trying to stop your effective actions and your fearless protest".
Referring to the Columban Society, Fr. Lenglet said: "In the hundred years of its existence the Columban Society has known at least seven members who have given their life as martyrs and, thus, as strong witnesses of hope, faith and love. The possibility that you might arrive at such a destiny yourself is not absent from your life either. Your fight for justice however is irresistible and this has been true from the very beginning. Arriving in the Philippines in 1969, you saw the distress of children, minors and women and without any hesitation you devoted your life as a Columban missionary to the immense work of putting an end to 'the abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children', long before this aim was set as one of the most important goals by the United Nations in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Target 16.2)".
Accepting the award, Fr Shay said the award recognises the work of bringing peace and reconciliation to the abused, exploited, abandoned, and jailed children of the world. "This prestigious award for our work" he said "is in the true spirit of Martin Buber's writings and his stand on making peace in the individual by direct contact with people to address human rights issues".
"Martin Buber's advocacy for peacemaking is based on compassionate listening, understanding the person, affirming each other, and engaging in dialogue directly with people who have or are suffering abuse and human rights violations. It is a philosophy to create the possibility and the chance of peace and reconciliation through full personal relationship between individuals and in society. It is a process of human interaction that brings healing and recovery, individually and in community" he said.
Referring to his human rights work, Fr Shay stated: "The work of freeing children from abusers, illegal imprisonment and abusive situations and bringing them healing from trauma and bringing them to a peaceful existence with society is what I have been doing for the past 43 years in the Philippines through the Preda Foundation with the help of dedicated co-workers.
"I am deeply honoured to be given this award but it is the resilient and courageous children who are survivors and victors who are the true recipients. I accept it on their behalf, and I congratulate the awarding committee in their wise and timely decision in choosing the resilient recovering children as the recipients of this award in my person.
"I speak for the many who struggle to overcome adversity and remain without a voice or an advocate. This Martin Buber Award ceremony is a forum for them to be heard. They are here centre stage. This occasion highlights the suffering and the struggle of abused children and youth to overcome abuse and live again".
Continuing he warned that without intervention to be heard, listened to and engaged in personal dialogue in the spirit of Martin Buber, many child survivors bury the pain and grow up to survive without inner peace and a happy childhood. "Some will be deeply affected all their lives, some will turn to vent their anger and pain on society through violence, but those who receive essential support and care through personal relationship in the community will recover and become strong and resilient members of society. Some become valuable advocates themselves."
Reflecting the faith values that inspire and drive his humanitarian work he concluded: "Silence is consent in the face of human rights abuse. We have to take a stand for human dignity and speak out for life and against death. This award is a message to the Philippines and the world that life is precious, the rights of the person must be upheld and protected, and victims of abuse of various kinds must be helped.
"As I said some months ago when receiving the Shalom Award in Germany, we are called to be champions for them, to be a voice for them, and give them a chance for a new life whether they are in the Philippines, in Syria, in South Sudan, in Yemen, in Myanmar, or in the Netherlands. Our values are universal and are for all people. In this world we live but a short time, we are all one family, and we have the strength and the spirit to act as one in making this a better world today and for the next generation" he concluded to sustained applause.
Fr Shay has received numerous international awards that recognise his work in human rights. Earlier this year he was nominated by the German Bundestag for the Nobel Peace Prize, and received the Shalom Human Rights Award in Eichstaett, Germany. His recent proposal, made while addressing members of the Irish Parliament (Oireachtas), to restrict the passports of paedophiles to curtail their travel to the sex tourism trade in the Philippines and other Asian countries has received widespread attention internationally. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan has indicated that she is examining how this could be done legally in Ireland.
Matt Moran is the author of The Legacy of Irish Missionaries Lives On -available from www.onstream.ie or from www.amazon.co.uk/Legacy-Irish-Missionaries-Lives-2016/dp/1897685556)
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