Religious Studies lecturer prepares nomination for Nobel Peace Prize
A sessional lecturer in the U of S Department of Religious Studies & Anthropology recently finished an intensive six weeks of work gathering facts, figures, photographs and official letters from luminaries around the world – all to put together an impressive document that few people would ever be in a position to create.
From Dec. 13-Jan. 24, Lesya Sabada-Nahachewsky co-ordinated the drafting of the nomination of retired Archbishop Joseph Raya for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.
Noting she had great help from department head James Mullens, secretaries Kathe Harder and Karen Ruston, and her husband Thomas Nahachewsky, Sabada admits the project became a consuming “labour of love” for her, fuelled by her own family’s history and her sense of Raya’s importance.
Raya, now 88 and living in a retreat near Ottawa, was born to a Christian Arab family Lebanon. He was ordained a priest in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in 1941 and had initial posts in Jerusalem, in Lebanon and in Cairo, Egypt.
Sabada says that throughout his life Raya has fought for justice, peace and love. He was deported from Egypt for defending women’s rights. He worked in Birmingham, Alabama from 1952-68, befriending Martin Luther King, Jr. and becoming a major figure in the civil rights movement and being beaten and left for dead by the Ku Klux Klan. After 1968 he was named Archbishop and was appointment to a post in Israel, where he worked tirelessly for the rights of the Jewish, Muslim, Druze and Arab Christians. In 1974 he resigned and moved to rural Ontario, but by the late-1980s he took a new post in war-torn Lebanon. He has been an outspoken worker for peace and was highly respected by leaders throughout his career.
Sabada’s nomination document states: “Archbishop Raya’s application of non-violent principles has been ... utterly unique in its breadth and universal effectiveness. His life’s experiences encompassed and included initiatives on several continents to address racial, religious and ethnic conflicts; civil rights issues; and political tensions ... (He) is, in our opinion, one of recent history’s greatest activists for peace, love and justice.”
Sabada says her family’s history in Europe – with both her mother and father suffering at the hands of the Nazis – has given her a strong sense of the need for justice. When she began to do research on Raya in 2001 with the idea it may become part of her PhD studies, she realized what a great figure he has been. And when she was teaching about the Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, she felt “Raya was exactly the same calibre”.
With Mullens’ help, Sabada found out how to prepare a Nobel nomination, and who could send formal letters of nomination and support. In the six-week period she gathered 18 nominations for Raya and 100 letters of support from notable people around the world, including a Catholic cardinal and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s widow Coretta Scott King. The letters came from Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Sweden, France, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Canada, the U.S., and points in South America.
“Raya fascinated me, not only because of his philosophy, but because he put it into practice,” Sabada says. In recent years she has visited him two or three times per year to gather firsthand information about his life.
Sabada adds the Nobel nomination has been “a calling” for her. “I want to make his attitudes and way of living life accessible and understandable to the public.”
She says the deadline for the receipt of Peace Prize nominations by the Nobel Committee in Norway was Feb. 1, and she got Raya’s nomination there in time. There are 162 other people and 36 organizations nominated this year. The winner will be announced in October.
U of S President Peter MacKinnon will meet with Sabada soon to learn more about the nomination. Mullens says the involvement of Sabada and the department in the nomination process fits in with its teaching of a Religion & Non-Violence course. It’s inspirational and helps to raise the profile of the U of S among highly placed people around the world.