Malala's story shows the strength of faith in action
By Deborah Gyapong
Photo caption: Malala Yousafzai, 19, who in 2014 became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, received honorary Canadian citizenship on April 12 in Ottawa. (Jake Wright)
Two young Catholic women who work on Parliament Hill say they found Malala Yousafzai’s April 12 visit inspiring and challenging.
Yousafzai in 2014 became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. At the age of 15, the Pakistani-born Muslim woman survived an assassination attempt by Taliban extremists for her efforts to promote education for girls in her homeland.
On April 12, Yousafzai, now 19, became the sixth person to be awarded honorary Canadian citizenship.
Kelsey Regnier, who works in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, not only listened to Yousafzai’s speech from the gallery of the House of Commons but also had a chance to shake her hand when the young Nobel Peace Prize winner visited interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose’s office.
“Her faith has given her the ability to endure incredible suffering and has also given her compassion and a disposition of forgiveness towards those who tried to kill her,” Regnier said in an email. “That willingness to forgive can only come from faith. She seems to literally exude peace and acceptance, and all Catholics can learn from her example of forgiveness.”
Regnier said Yousafzai began her address by pointing out that she had originally been scheduled to come to Parliament the day of the Ottawa shooting, Oct. 22, 2014. “I could sense her frustration when she condemned that shooting, and the other atrocities being committed in the name of Islam,” said Regnier.
“I understood her frustration; people commit heinous acts in the name of their religion, and all faith-filled people then seem to be guilty by association,” Regnier said. “Sometimes I feel as a person of faith that society seeks opportunities to point out the evils committed in the name of religion and can overlook the good.”
“Malala’s passion and her activism are examples of that good, and a reminder that we often have a lot more in common with our brothers and sisters of different faiths than we think,” she said.
Tricia de Souza, who works in MP Garnett Genuis’s office, said Yousafzai’s visit had been long anticipated since Prime Minister Stephen Harper invited her to Parliament to receive honorary citizenship.
“[Her speech] was important for many to hear,”said de Souza, who was born in Dubai of Catholic parents originally from Goa, India. “Canada has been very strong in the fight against terrorist groups like the Taliban. I think it’s important for our Parliamentarians to remember what exactly we stand for and what we should strive to protect.”
In her speech, Yousafzai brought up the hatred of the type of men who attacked her, hatred that is “destroying our democracies, our freedom of religion and our right to go to school,” de Souza said.
“Sometimes I do think we forget these basic fundamental freedoms we have here that we need to exercise in order to maintain them,” de Souza said.
For de Souza, Yousafzai’s courage and heroic actions represent more than the various awards and honors she has received, reminding her of St. Irenaeus’ saying, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
“That quote is applicable to our life, a model for all of us – man being fully alive, man being fully free to be fully alive,” de Souza said. “It’s an important thing for our governments to remember – being full of life beholding God. I think her life and the actions she took are a manifestation of that kind of reality.”
De Souza said Yousafzai persisted in fighting for the education of girls despite threats she and her family received. She credited Yousafzai’s parents with giving her the courage to persist, even when it was not safe.
“The assassination attempt didn’t thwart her,” she said. “She’s continuing to go out and speak. It shows courage and fearlessness. I think it’s wonderful.”
“Malala is a reminder of the impact that one individual can make,” said Regnier. “She perfectly embodies what we are told in Jeremiah, ‘Say not I am too young.’”
“There were a good number of young people in the crowd for her address, and she encouraged everyone regardless of their age to not be afraid to be leaders and effect change,” she said. “God does not call the equipped, he equips the called, as we Catholics like to say.”
“The address was a big reminder for me that we are not called to just stay where we are comfortable,” Regnier said. “We are called to be courageous and take risks for love of Christ and others.”
De Souza said Yousafzai’s presence was a reminder not to take our freedom of religion for granted.