Leymah Gbowee

I just read Fr. John Dear’s column on the documentary film/DVD called Pray the Devil Back to Hell. It’s the story of the incredible Christian and Muslim women of Liberia, who demonstrated and prayed publicly in concert, to bring an end to the horrific dictatorship of Charles Taylor in 2003. Their public testimony paved the way for the election of Africa’s first woman president, Ellen John Sirleaf of Liberia.

It is certainly a magnificent testimony the virtues and effectiveness of non-violence. But it is more than that. It is a testimony to the growing power and leadership of women in the world of religion -- in many roles, and in many faith traditions. In this case -- Leymah and the women who joined her were in the forefront of the quest for justice and peace.

I interviewed both Leymah Gbowee and the film’s producer, Abigail Disney, in late 2009. I was left almost breathless with Leymah’s story: her courage, her faith and her willingness to bridge Christian/Muslim divides in Africa.

So I was greatly honored when I was asked to present Leymah Gbowee with the Living Legends Award, given by a Seventh Day Adventist Church in the Washington area Feb 27. The congregation that evening was about 95 percent African-American, and it was the end of Black History Month.

When I presented her with the award, I said, with no exaggeration, “This is a woman with the soul of a Martin Luther King, of a Fanny Lou Hamer, of a Nelson Mandela.” When she rose to accept the award, she did not disappoint. She spoke about the injustices in her homeland that continue to pre-occupy her mind and heart, especially the abuse of women and the girls who lack schooling. And this, she said -- with a sense of disbelief, “is the 21st century.” And she said it again, and again. Her words were so eloquent that the congregation of about 300 people rose with rousing enthusiasm and utter joy.

The new face of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, in this case… is a woman’s face. And yes, she should receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

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