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Father Cullen honoured with humanitarian award

KILLARNEY (SE): Regular columnist for the Sunday Examiner, Father Shay Cullen, was awarded the Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award at a weekend festival in Killarney, Ireland, for his work in promoting human rights, justice and peace.

Awarded by the city of Killarney in honour of one of its most revered sons, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, whose work on the Rome Escape Line during World War II was responsible for saving over 6,500 people, the city established the humanitarian award nine years ago.

In 2013, to mark the 50th anniversary of Monsignor O’Flaherty’s death, the city erected a life-size sculpture of its famous son in the town square and on May 8 this year, a plaque commemorating his life was unveiled at the German College in Rome, where he lived from 1938 until 1960 and from where he organised the Escape Line.

Father Cullen received his award for his defence of human rights, especially among young people at the PREDA Institute in Olongapo in The Philippines, during the annual Memorial Weekend that ran from November 4 to 6.

In the citation for the award, the city of Killarney described Father Cullen as believing that poverty, violence and child abuse are barriers to peace that give rise to extremism.

“He strives to eliminate child abuse and promote respect for children’s rights. He works for peace by working to change the unjust economic political and social structures, and attitudes that allow such abuse.

“His mission for justice and peace is ecumenical; open to people of all faiths. It is based on taking a stand for human rights and protecting the dignity of every person, in particular exploited women and children,” the citation says.

In response, the Irish-born Columban priest said, “Today we have a grave situation in The Philippines where the spirit of Monsignor Hugh is needed more than ever. The truth is that state sanctioned executions of young people suspected of being drug users or dealers has reached a high of about 3,500 murdered since June 30. The killing goes on as I speak to you tonight.”

He stressed, “We have to take a stand against these violations and stand for the value of life and due process of law and the principle that all are innocent until proven guilty. Otherwise not only are more suspects vulnerable, but we are all vulnerable if death squads are allowed to have their murderous way.”

In a sad reflection on Philippine society, Father Cullen pointed out, “Too many Filipinos believe it is okay for the death squads and police to kill the suspects, but anyone can be branded as a suspect and done away with.”

He added that in the end, if a country ignores the rule of law, due process and the judicial system, faulty as it may be, the constitutional right to life and freedom will become a thing of the past.

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