By Alessandro Speciale
A Central American woman who sought throughout her life to reconcile Christian belief with the indigenous religious tradition of her land has won a prestigious global prize given by a Japanese Buddhist organization.
Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez, a 55-year old human rights activist from Guatemala, was awarded the 29th Niwano Peace Prize.
The prize was established to honor individuals and organizations that have contributed to inter-religious cooperation and is named after Nikkyo Niwano, founder of the lay Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai and a non-Christian observer at the Second Vatican Council.
The Committee that awards the prize consists of twelve religious leaders from various parts of the world.
Velásquez is a native of the Kaqchiquel Maya tribe and is the first practitioner of an indigenous religious tradition to receive the award.
Born in a country torn by decades of internal struggle and violence, where the indigenous population, and especially women, endured systematic of racism and discrimination, Velásquez began her professional life as a teacher of Christian doctrine and an auxiliary nurse.
In 1988, Velásquez founded the National Coordinating Organization of Widows of Guatemala, a leading human rights organization pioneering active peaceful resistance. She became “a symbol both of the struggle against violence and the Mayan people’s resistance to it,” according to a statement announcing the prize.
Among previous winners of the Niwano Peace Prize are Brasilian Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, the Community of Sant’Egidio, theologian Hans Küng and Thailand eco-campaigner Sulak Sivaraksa.