VATICAN CITY, OCT. 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI awarded two living “martyrs” of Communism in Eastern Europe with the prize dedicated to Pope John Paul II by the Institute of Human Rights, of Oswiecim, Poland.
The award was received today by Bishop Vaclav Maly, auxiliary bishop of Prague, arrested on several occasions during the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia, and by Stefan Wilkanowicz of Krakow, director of the Znak Catholic foundation, and a friend of John Paul II’s.
The award was established in 2003, with the consent of the Vatican, to preserve and promote the message that John Paul II gave to the world on June 7, 1979, in Oswiecim, when he paid tribute to the victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp that was located there during World War II.
The institute specifies that the honorary award seeks “to present to the contemporary world the philosophy of John Paul II on human rights and to make it concrete.”
The date to confer the award, which took place in the Apostolic Palace, was chosen to celebrate the 27th anniversary of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla’s election as Pope.
Attending the ceremony were Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, Cardinal Wojtyla’s successor as archbishop of Krakow, an office he held until last August, and Poland’s ambassador to the Holy See, Hanna Suchocka.
Those who participated in the selection of the laureates were Cardinal Macharski; Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights; Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, former foreign minister of Poland; and two Nobel Prize recipients, Hungarian Imre Kertesz and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
Vaclav Maly was born in 1950, and was ordained a priest in 1976. A member and signatory of the “Charta 77,” he was arrested in 1979 and imprisoned for seven months.
The Communist government took away his license to exercise his priestly ministry, and he was forced to work as a laborer and window-cleaner. In November 1989, he participated in the peaceful “velvet revolution.”
He launched a historic moment when he intoned the Our Father in the esplanade of Letna, before hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.
Stefan Wilkanowicz was born in 1942 and is one of Poland’s best known intellectuals and journalists. He was persecuted for many years by the Stalinist regime and incarcerated in Communist prisons.
He was one of Cardinal Wojtyla’s closest collaborators. Among other things, he is an editor on Internet page “Forum: Jews, Poles, Christians.”