Sister Helen Prejean, recipient of the 2008 World Methodist Peace Award, is congratulated April 2 by the Rev. John Barrett (from left), Bishop William Hutchinson and the Rev. George Freeman. UMNS photos by Betty Backstrom.
Note & Intro (from JOH blogger, Connie): This article is posted here now because we are drawing close to the 60th anniversary of The Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 2008) so how fitting to remember various awards and groups who have chosen to honor abolitionists during the last year - along with the people they have honored, of course.
Sister Helen is a heroine among us if there ever was one. Many may not have known of this award who have some awareness of Sister Helen's work. If you go to her website, you will find many more. She has been a longtime supporter and participant in The Journey of Hope. Congratulations a little late, Sister Helen - and on all your many other awards and honorary degrees as well!
We also need to be constantly aware and getting out the news about the many church, religious and other groups - often overlooked - who've been coming forth more and more to say no to the death penalty by honoring leaders such as Sister Helen.
Please post any such notices under comments here on the JOH weblog and we will try to highlight them in future posts.
Sister Helen Prejean, recipient of the 2008 World Methodist Peace Award
By Betty Backstrom* From April 4, 2008 | NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)
United Methodists "stood by my side at the very beginning," said Sister Helen Prejean as she received the 2008 World Methodist Peace Award.
Prejean, 68, the Catholic nun who has become an international spokesperson against the death penalty, was presented the award April 2 by the Rev. John Barrett, president of the World Methodist Council and an ordained member of the British Methodist Church.
She is the author of Dead Man Walking: an Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, which detailed her relationship with Patrick Sonnier, a convicted killer of two teenagers who was executed in 1984.
Prejean speaks about her efforts to end capital punishment.
Serving as Sonnier’s spiritual advisor, Prejean was present at his execution in Louisiana. "I had never witnessed another person being killed," she recalled. "I came out of the room vomiting. It was then that a mission was born. I realized that most people were never going to see something like this, so the book was written to bear eyewitness."
Prejean spoke of early days when she and others publicly opposed the death penalty. There were marches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, La., and from Baton Rouge to Angola Prison in Louisiana. "A young Methodist pastor named Tim Lawson was very involved with us during the early '80s," Prejean said.
Serving at the time as chairperson of the Louisiana Conference Board of Church and Society, Lawson was concerned about the death penalty even before he met Prejean. "In 1983, Robert Wayne Williams was the first person executed in Louisiana after the Supreme Court lifted a ban on capital punishment. Although I never met Williams, I just tried to agitate on his behalf for a stay of execution," Lawson said.
Lawson was delighted at Prejean's selection to receive the award. "I can’t think of a better choice," he said.
Before presenting the award, Barrett read from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 6, reminding the audience of Christ’s command that His followers should love their enemies. "Peace is so much more than the absence of war," he said. "It is about truly living in love. Sister Prejean is doing that by working to bring reconciliation between individuals and the society from which they have become alienated."
Dead Man Walking, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1993, was on the The New York Times Best Seller list for 31 weeks. The book also became an international best seller and has been translated into 10 languages. In 1995, the book was made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Sarandon won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Prejean.
The Rev. George Freeman, the council's chief executive, cited Prejean's "commitment to abolishing the death penalty in the United States, her ministry to inmates and their families, as well as her ministry to the families of victims" as the key factors in presenting her with 2008 award.
Prejean joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957 and served as a teacher and religious education director in New Orleans. In 1981, after dedicating her life to the poor and beginning a prison ministry, she began corresponding with Sonnier.
Her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, was published in 2004.
Prejean continues to educate the public about capital punishment. She founded Survive, a victims advocacy group in New Orleans, and continues to counsel inmates on death row, as well as the families of murder victims.
The World Methodist Peace Award is presented annually to individuals or groups who have contributed significantly to peace, justice and reconciliation. Among the criteria for the award are courage, creativity and consistency.
The World Methodist Council is a communion of 74 member churches in more than 132 countries reaching nearly 75 million people worldwide.
*Backstrom is the communications director of the United Methodist Louisiana Conference.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.