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The Nobel Peace Prize For Our Cardinal

 Why I Think He Will Not Get It...


by J.M. Joseph Jeyaseelan, CMF

By now it is quite well known that there is a serious campaign recommending the name of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith to be the 2019 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (NPP). I initially thought about supporting the campaign; but finally decided not to. This is a personal decision and I am not campaigning in anyway against the Cardinal being a nominee to this prestigious award. If he gets there, I will be happy about it both as a Sri Lankan and a Christian.

Please don't think that I am a pessimist without first reading the write-up in full. I am only trying to be a realist. Sorry about not supporting the campaign and sorry about this prediction that may be disappointing to those "optimists" who are vigorously campaigning to make our Cardinal a NPP winner.


To begin with, the way the Cardinal-Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Ranjith has spoken (out) and conducted himself as a religious leader after the Easter Sunday carnage is commendable indeed. He became a voice of unity. His role in preventing more violence breaking out in post-April 21st times is very crucial and he is to be appreciated for this and the entire country is in fact doing it. Now he is bold enough to name the evils and at the same time plead for sanity to prevail.

But folks, this is not enough to qualify to win the NPP. The NPP is awarded to people who have spent years, sometimes their entire "career" as agents of transformation of the world. How many of us know that Gandhi was never awarded the NPP although he became a nominee several times. The NPP committee had its reasons to deny the prize for this person who is popularly presented as a champion of peace and non-violence. But if you read Arundhati Roy's "The Doctor and the Saint" (2017), you will find reasons there as to why Gandhi was not awarded the NPP. If Gandhi could not get there, do you think our Cardinal will?

NPP is mostly for people who are peacemakers and not peacekeepers. Doing damage control is different from actively engaging in peacebuilding. I think the role of our Cardinal in doing the latter in the 10 years that have elapsed since the war ended in our country is not that impressive. What he is doing as damage control in 4/21 times is not weighty enough to convince the committee to award the NPP to our Cardinal if they examine his work in 2009-2019 period. If he had won the trust of the Sri Lankans (above all, all the Christians) in the past 10 years as the way he does now, the committee on NPP would have at least shortlisted him. But he did not spend much time and energy in helping to find a political solution to the country's ethnic problem. True he was often found either receiving politicians or he was hosted by politicians. But it is not enough to be considered to receive the NPP.

Does the unrealistic enthusiast who began the campaign know anything at all about what the NPP is and to whom it is awarded? In 2016 it was awarded to Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia "for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end ..." Does the first campaigner or those people who have joined the campaign think that our Cardinal has the record of making resolute efforts over a long period of time in a consistent way to build peace in Sri Lanka like Santos did in Colombia? Folks, notice that it is 50 years of resolute, consistent, active and passionate involvement. I don't think the good work our Cardinal has done over a period of 2 weeks in helping to manage a crisis (maintaining peace, preventing conflict, etc.) can in anyway convince the NPP committee that he is a champion of peace. The committee usually look for nominees who are lifelong active peacebuilders and not mere transient crisis-managers.

In 2008, the NPP was given to Finland's Martti Ahtisaari "for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts." Martti was out in the field, in several continents, over 30 years, trying to resolve international conflict. I think the Cardinal has traveled only within his archdiocese doing damage control. He has not visited the affected people in other parts of the country. I don't know if he did. But I have not seen anything in the media. Also the Cardinal is not known in any big way for doing peace advocacy work in Asia or in other continents. So, I don't think the Cardinal's candidature for NPP is that strong.

Among the religious leaders who have won the NPP is the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. He got it in 1989. He was recognized for his struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He [has] "consistently opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people." Furthermore, in the opinion of the NPP committee "the Dalai Lama has come forward with constructive and forward-looking proposals for the solution of international conflicts, human rights issues, and global environmental problems." Another religious leader who was awarded the NPP is South Africa's Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984). It was a recognition for his "role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa. The means by which this campaign is conducted is of vital importance for the whole of the continent of Africa and for the cause of peace in the world." I don't think our Cardinal's work is anywhere close to the ideal the Dalai Lama or Tutu lived and exemplified. Are the efforts of our Cardinal on par with these? Comparison does not help much, I know. Each one plays a unique role in unique situations. I agree. But the NPP committee has its tough criteria. That's my point.

In 1979 Saint Mother Teresa was given the NPP. Why? In 1964 it was Martin Luther King Jr. who received it. Why? We know the reasons even if the NPP committee does not tell us.There had been years when the NPP was not awarded to anybody. It does not mean there were no candidates. It means the criteria of the committee are clear and if it does not find nominees who are worthy of the prize, they are bold enough not to name anyone.

There had been occasions when a group of people or organizations were awarded the NPP. I don't think our case is impressive enough to be considered in terms of group work or organizational work. The Cardinal was doing it mostly alone except in a few cases where he appeared with others, in one case with a Muslim leader (in Poruthota) and on another occasion with some pastors. His auxiliaries (two bishops) were seen with him a couple of times. The Cardinal is unlikely to be considered together with the Bishops' Conference as nothing substantial has been reported as done by the Bishops' Conference. In one case that was reported all the bishops came together to give a press briefing. It was telecast over Verbum TV.

So, I don't think our Cardinal is going to be recognized by the NPP committee either as an individual or together with others.

P.S.: I don't think our Cardinal is doing the good that he is doing expecting to win the NPP. However, we have to wait until October 2019 to know if our Cardinal will win it or not. But for now it may be good for the campaigners to know that there are already 301 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 (223 individuals and 78 are organizations). In case he wins it, he will sure be a leading candidate in the next Conclave. Unfortunately, there is no campaign possible for that. Otherwise, I am sure, some Catholics would have begun by now "make Cardinal Ranjith the next Pope" campaign. One of the possible candidates for NPP, in my opinion, is not a possible future pope, but the present Pope!

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