The Norwegian Nobel Committee stunned the political world Friday with news that President Obama had been selected as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," said the Committee. "His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."
Catholics especially had reason to rejoice. President Obama had attended Catholic school as a child and had his first exposure to organized religion while working for three years out of a Catholic church rectory as a young community organizer in Chicago. Throughout his campaign and his early presidency, he repeatedly returned to Catholic language and the central themes of the Catholic social tradition.
"By championing dialogue over confrontation, and respect over scorn, President Obama has shown the way to the kind of peaceful world for which we as Catholics have been praying so earnestly all our lives," said Dr Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats. "He has called for a world without nuclear weapons, for an unprecedented effort to reduce abortions, for an end to torture and wars of conquest. As Catholic Christians, these have been our highest priorities through more than a century of unequaled human suffering."
In his speech at the University of Notre Dame in May, President Obama called for a new era of dialogue about issues like abortion--urging a search for collective solutions, rather than the self-aggrandizement and name-calling that had paralyzed both sides on that issue. In Cairo he called for recognizing the humanity of one's adversaries, and reaching out to them for shared solutions. In Berlin, after 65 years of all nations living in fear of nuclear destruction, Mr Obama became the first sitting US president to call for a world without nuclear weapons.
Conservative Catholics have criticized his methods, but the whole-hearted embrace of the full spectrum of Catholic priorities cannot be ignored. Eventually all Americans will have healthcare. Some day, all the nuclear weapons will be put to rest. In the future, all Americans will shake their heads at the thought that the US government sanctioned torture and permanent imprisonment of its enemies--measures that further fueled the world's hatred of the United States.
Although nominations closed shortly after Mr Obama took office, the Norwegian panel had not selected the winner until mere days before the announcement. The Nobel Committee was headed by former Norwegian Prime Minister Thorbjorn Jagland, who was also recently elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe. In remarks quoted in the New York Times, he likened this year's award to the one in 1971 that recognized Willy Brandt, the chancellor of West Germany, and his "Ostpolitik" policy of reconciliation with Communist Eastern Europe.
"Brandt hadn't achieved much when he got the prize, but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall," Mr. Jagland said. "The same thing is true of the prize to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, for launching perestroika. One can say that Barack Obama is trying to change the world, just as those two personalities changed Europe."
In Pope Benedict's remarks last week, welcoming the new US Ambassador to the Vatican, he foreshadowed the Nobel Prize Committee statement when he said, "I appreciate your acknowledgement of the need for a greater spirit of solidarity and multilateral engagement in approaching the urgent problems facing our planet. The cultivation of the values of 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' can no longer be seen in predominantly individualistic or even national terms, but must rather be viewed from the higher perspective of the common good of the whole human family. The continuing international economic crisis clearly calls for a revision of present political, economic and financial structures in the light of the ethical imperative of ensuring the integral development of all people. What is needed, in effect, is a model of globalization inspired by an authentic humanism, in which the world's peoples are seen not merely as neighbors but as brothers and sisters."
The Committee citation read as follows:
The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.
Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.
For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."