John Paul II

Assessing His Legacy

In April 1977, as general secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, I received an urgent phone call from Buenos Aires with the news that Adolfo Perez Esquivel, leader of Argentina’s human-rights movement Servicio Paz y Justicia, had been kidnapped by the secret police. Argentina was then ruled by a military dictatorship, and those who “disappeared” were rarely heard from or seen again.

I quickly called Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mairead Corrigan in Belfast. She had met Perez Esquival and respected his work greatly. I suggested that she immediately nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize—a right given to each Nobel recipient. We knew that Perez Esquival was unlikely to be regarded as a serious candidate for such an honor, but our hope was that the nomination would make the Argentinean generals cautious about his life. Within an hour Corrigan had sent a letter to the Nobel Committee in Oslo proposing Perez Esquival’s name. The next day, both his disappearance and the Nobel nomination were in the world press.

It took fourteen months, but our action was successful. In 1978, Perez Esquival was finally freed. Though repeatedly tortured, he was one of the few desaparecidos to return alive from Argentina’s secret prisons. Following his release, we thought no more about his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. He had survived and resumed his work—this was all we had...

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About the Author

Jim Forest heads the Orthodox Peace Fellowship from his home in Alkmaar, the Netherlands. His most recent book is The Wormwood File: E-Mail from Hell (Orbis).