PARIS, SEPT. 22, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Roger Etchegaray and the grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina jointly received the Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace prize from UNESCO.
The retired president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Mustafa Ceric, were awarded the prize Tuesday at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
UNESCO’s award was instituted in 1991 to “honor persons in their lifetime, and public or private institutions that have made a significant contribution to the promotion, search, and preservation of peace, in keeping with the United Nations Charter and UNESCO’s Constitution.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State and Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger presided over the international jury that awarded the prize.
“These two religious personalities have been chosen in recognition of their action in favor of interfaith dialogue, tolerance and peace,” Kissinger said when announcing the jury’s decision. “The jury believes reconciliation of religious views to be one of the great challenges of our age.”
The executive secretary of the prize, Alioune Traore, explained that “by making this choice the jury sent out a strong signal to the international community in favor of interfaith dialogue, an essential fundament of peace and understanding among peoples and nations.”
John Paul II appointed Cardinal Etchegaray president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace in 1984, when he was archbishop of Marseilles.
Over the past 20 years, the cardinal has undertaken reconciliation missions on behalf of the Pope in Iraq, Iran, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan and Cuba, among other countries.
<br> “I feel very small,” Cardinal Etchegaray said in statements on Vatican Radio, when receiving the prize, “as I have been able to prove in the missions that the Holy Father has entrusted to me in numerous hot spots on the planet.”
In the end, “we are before the mystery of man,” the cardinal said. “In fact, after having done everything we thought possible in favor of peace, we are before the imponderable secret of the conscience. Not even God can do anything before man’s conscience, which is free.”
“In sum, conscience has the last word. It is stronger than all ideologies, than all strategies, and even than all religions,” he added.
The other winner, Mustafa Ceric, was born in 1952 in Veliko Cajno. Ceric studied in Sarajevo and at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.
After living for some time in the United States, in 1987 he was appointed grand imam of Zagreb, the Croatian capital.
His mosque became an important cultural and spiritual center. Grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina since 1993, he is a member of the European Council of Religious Leaders, a branch of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.
UNESCO’s peace prize is named after the first president of Ivory Coast. The award includes a 122,000-euro ($150,000) prize.