Of all of the vices out there that crop up along the strait and narrow path like stumbling stones, the one that has nary held the slightest whiff of temptation for me is gambling.
Perhaps this is because of my general dislike of anything having to do with too many numbers (an awful, embarrassing admission for the son of a Certified Public Accountant, I know!), or it could possibly be attributed to a belief on my part that we work too hard for our incomes today to risk the proceeds of our labor to chance, but – despite numerous forays to bachelor parties both in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and many unsuccessful bids for making a quick million through uncountable office lotto pools – I have never been taken in by the dulcet tones of wagering’s siren’s song.
I mention this little fact in passing only by way of an explanation; for you see it was a little over a week ago when I initially started drafting this blog posting – which was then on the predicted winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize: Pope Francis!
This draft on Pope Francis wasn’t just a shot in the dark on my part – nor was it wishful thinking of an admirer (although I certainly am that)! Instead, I based my early predictions on whom all the bookmakers were saying was the likely shoo-in for this year’s most prestigious prize for peace. All across the world, news outlets were touting our current Pope as an odd on favorite: that is – of course – until last Friday when the Norwegian Nobel Committee – who awards the prize – announced that the TWO winners of this year’s award were a sixty year old Indian Hindu child labor activist and a 17 year old Pakistani Muslim schoolgirl and education activist, and decidedly NOT an Argentine septuagenarian who happens to lead the Roman Catholic Church! (my general skepticism of the inerrancy of statistical prediction thereby remaining intact!)) And despite his “loss “to them, I imagine that Pope Francis – with his emphasis on caring for the poorest and least among us – would most assuredly approve of the Nobel Committee’s choice of Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize honorees.
The first recipient - Mr. Satyarthi - whom the Nobel Committee honored this year in recognition of his many decades working against child labor practices both within and outside India – has previously served as Secretary General of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front and the founder of the group “Save the Childhood Mission” since 1980; he has been credited with acting to protect the rights of over 83,000 child laborers around the world and was likewise a moving force behind the International Labor Organization adopting it’s Convention No. 182 which prohibits the worst forms of child labor.
Mr. Satyarthi’s co-honoree – Malala Yousafzai – is a little better known. Only 17 upon receiving this year’s Nobel Peace Prize honor, Malala -as she is popularly known in the media – earned her celebrity in a manner that no little girl – indeed, no child – should ever become well-known: two years ago – at the age of only 15, after writing a blog post that described what life was like for a young woman attempting to go to school and gain an education in the Taliban controlled region of North-west Pakistan known as the Swat Valley –Malala was shot in the face at point blank range by a Taliban gunman on a crowded bus on her way to school. After a miraculous survival – where she was airlifted to Britain for treatment – Malala has gone on to become a best-selling memoirist, activist and advocate on behalf of educational opportunities for children – especially young women. At 17, Malala is the youngest person to have ever received the Nobel Peace Prize since it was first awarded back in 1901.
Both brave and well-respected honorees working on behalf of worthy and important causes, I think that the Nobel Committee did an outstanding job in selecting their honorees this year – particularly in the case of Malala and her advocacy on behalf of education for young women and girls. As someone concerned about development and peace, I know that there is almost no better predictor of the success for a nation’s thriving than when the education of girls is a priority. In these instances – when the education of girls in given prominence – young women tend to wed later, earn more and take better care of their families: it has been estimated that one year of primary school increases a girl’s future wages by 10-20%, and an extra year of secondary school increases her earning potential by 15-25%, and according to USAID, each additional year of female education reduces child mortality in those places by 18,000 births per year.
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to see the importance of advocacy on behalf of education for young women first-hand when I traveled over to Northern Tanzania along with other diocesan social action directors on a trip that was sponsored by Catholic Relief Services. While we were there, we had the opportunity to sit down with a local bishop who shared a meal with us. During our supper, we had the opportunity to ask him some questions regarding his ministry and the people in the diocese where he served. This particular bishop had a fairly significant population of Maasai people within his diocese, many of whom had begun to attend the local Church. When some of our group began to question him regarding the the Maasai’s tribal tradition of plural marriage (the Maasai traditionally practiced polygamy), and what he was doing to discourage such practices among his congregants, the Bishop smiled and responded that the most effective approach he had found to counter-act such practices was a “pastoral” one: when the local tribal chieftans of the Maasai had approached him with a request that their sons be educated at the local parochial schools, the bishop stated that he’d agree to their request only if in addition to having their sons attend the schools, that they sent their daughters for an education as well. He went on to explain that he had imposed this condition knowing full well that once the majority of these young women were thus educated, most would not elect to enter into a plural marriage but instead choose to marry only one husband given the opportunity to do so.
In recalling this story, it does not escape me that as I draft this blog post, the Bishops of the world are assembled over in Rome for an “Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the Family”; in researching what to write about this year’s Nobel laureates – particularly Malala – as well as keeping up with some of the proceedings of the Synod in Rome, the words and actions of that extraordinarily wise Bishop whom I encountered in Tanzania kept returning to me: the brilliance of the solution to the “pastoral problem” he was presented with – the actions that he undertook on behalf of the girl children of his community so deeply respectful of both the dignity of those young women and marriage itself – that I remain in awe of his simple – yet not simplistic – wisdom to this day.
One of my favorite Scriptural passages from the Old Testament – particularly at Christmas time, but honestly at any time of year – has always been the 11th Chapter of Isaiah, Verse 6: “and the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the fatling together; and a little child will lead them.” With such a dearth of authentic leadership afflicting our world today, perhaps it is exactly here – with the children: Malala, the young women of the Maasai community, all children everywhere: boys and girls – that the simple quest for human decency, dignity and development should begin.
If the children thus lead, perhaps the “leaders” will follow, and we can begin to realize that the peaceable kingdom promised all those centuries ago in the beautiful words of Isaiah – a most worthy prize indeed!