[Speech delivered on the occasion of Fr. Cullen’s reception the Mons. Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award, on November 5, 2016 at The Avenue Hotel, Killarney. Ireland]
Dear Friends and supporters and defenders of human rights.
I am honored tonight to be here to receive the Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award. I accept it not for myself but on behalf of all those who are working and risking their lives to defend the rights of the oppressed people and to win freedom for those who are victims of human rights violations.
I accept it for those courageous people who resist oppression and whose lives are at risk of summary execution, those abused, the unjustly incarcerated and for those who are refugees from war and hunger.
I thank Matt Moran for making the nomination and for his commitment in supporting the work of Preda Foundation. I thank Jerry ‘O Grady and the members of the awarding committee and the Killarney Chamber of Commerce for their commitment and dedication in giving support for these people in great need through this award.
I thank The Columban Missionary Society that made it possible for me to serve in the Philippines and to implement the Preda Mission, and to do what I do.
The award is a statement that all life is precious, that every person, no matter whose life it is, is of great value and each has invaluable dignity and every one is worth saving. This is the spirit and the value by which Hugh O’Flaherty lived and risked his own life to support and implement in action. He succeeded in saving thousands from the Nazi execution death squads and the gas chambers.
The award is a message to the world, it is a statement that human rights are of greatest importance and that the lives of the excluded people and the poorest of the poor are of immense worth and that they have a right by their humanity to receive help and support in times of need and danger.
This too is the value driving Preda Foundation’s Social workers who rescue those abused in jails and brothels and brings them to freedom and safety, free from the power of their abusers.
Today we have a grave situation in the Philippines, where the spirit of Mons. 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 3500 murdered since 30 June. The killing goes on as I speak to you tonight.
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.
Too many Filipinos believe it is OK for the death squads and police to kill the “suspects” anyone can be branded as a “suspect” and done away with. It is the end of a country if the rule of law, due process is ignored and the judicial system, faulty as it is, bypassed. Education on the constitutional right to life and freedom is more vital than ever to save the dignity of the people.
Silence is consent in the face of human rights abuse. We have to take stand for human dignity and speak out for life and against death. What Mons.Hugh was up against was similar as the Nazi Gestapo in Rome rounded up innocents and executed them because they were seen as different, as inferior human beings and as enemies. They had no value and were to be exterminated. The same is going on today in Syria and Iraq, the commitment and saving action of Mons Hugh is needed today more than ever.
Here, Ireland is opening it doors wider and has committed to relocate and to resettle 4,000 refugees and will continue to receiving 80 refugees a month. This is an enlightened action but Ireland can do more to help those fleeing oppression, war and dire poverty.
Our mission in years past has been to go out to the developing countries to help the poor and the needy, the endangered and the downtrodden. Nowadays they are here, coming to us in Ireland, in the UK and in Europe. They are already among us and we are challenged to have a mission, a duty to reach out to them. Our depth of compassion, empathy and self-sacrifice is challenged by the situation and let us rise to meet it as did Mons Hugh did.
The spirit of Hugh O’Flaherty says YES, he reached out to them in Rome and saved 6500 we can do no less wherever we are, whoever we are. We are called to be champions for them, to be a voice for them, and give them a chance for a new life whether they are in the Philippines, in Syria, in Ireland, as Mons Hugh said “God has no country.”
On this planet, my friends, we are all one, and we have the strength and the spirit to act as one in making this a better world today and for the next generation. Thank you of honoring them with this award.