Characterized as a "gentle giant in our great state," President Gordon B. Hinckley received the first Distinguished Humanitarian Award on Oct. 12 from Catholic Community Services of Utah.
Administered by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, the social services organization bestowed the honor at its Annual Awards Dinner in Salt Lake City. Also honored as humanitarians were The Good Samaritan Program, operated by the diocese's Cathedral of the Madeleine to distribute food, personal care items and socks to more than 300 individuals and families daily; and the Salt Lake Interfaith Hospitality Network, a coalition of area churches supported by 63 congregations representing 10 faiths in the Salt Lake Valley. The churches open their doors to provide temporary shelter for the homeless.
In accepting the award, President Hinckley said, "I know that while you give this to me, it is intended for my very, very many associates in the Church who carry forward this great humanitarian effort on a day-to-day basis and do it in a quiet and wonderful way."
President Hinckley said, "In this community we are very honored and happy to work with our Catholic friends in supplying food and other items from our welfare stores, and furniture and such matters from Deseret Industries. We are pleased to do this."
In addition, he noted that in 2003, the Church distributed $1.6 million worth of goods and services through Catholic charitable agencies, including 2,500 tons of grain to Ethiopia. "We have worked with Catholic agencies all across the world in dispensing that which is so urgently needed," he said.
Beyond what was given through Catholic agencies, the Church in 2003 gave $96 million in goods, services and cash to assist the needy, he said, including 42,000 wheelchairs. He added that 400,000 people received clean water through the Church's efforts and disease immunization was provided for 3 million children over three years.
"There is so much suffering in this world. I thought as we were eating tonight millions of people will go to bed hungry this evening, and there are millions of people who never in all of their lives will have the kind of meal that you and I have enjoyed tonight. . . . It is our responsibility as church people, regardless of our denominational affiliation, to reach out, to help those in distress and need and pain and sorrow and trouble wherever they may be found, not only locally but also across this broad earth. I am grateful to be able to say that we are trying to do our part in accomplishing that good."
He remarked in closing, "We may have theological differences among us, but we all have one responsibility and one interest that is common to each of us and that is to help those in distress and trouble."
In introductory remarks, the Most Rev. George H. Niederauer, bishop of the diocese, mentioned that donors and volunteers who have kept the Good Samaritan program going for many years include "conspicuously, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." He lauded President Hinckley's "embracing of diversity, reaching out for what unites us as people. It seems to me almost every time, maybe every time, at general conference, he has emphasized this theme, this theme of our being children of one Father. His living of the values of the gospel, calling upon us to see Jesus Christ in each other, and each other in Christ, his emphasis upon the family of God and families unto the Lord. He sees past the differences for the love that is shared and celebrated and lived out in daily action."
President Hinckley was introduced by Urban Meyer, University of Utah head football coach, who noted the Church leader has encouraged expansion of Church humanitarian efforts throughout the world, visiting many of the areas receiving aid. "Many people remember President Hinckley going to Central America after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, where he personally wielded a mop in cleanup efforts there."
Pamela Atkinson, dinner chair, read a letter from the Rev. Peter Eaton, formerly of Salt Lake City and now rector of St. John's Episcopal Cathedral in Denver, Colo., who wrote: "As we honor you tonight and the extraordinary work you have done over a lifetime in the service of others, I am not alone in my affectionate remembrance of Marjorie who would have been so proud of this award to you and whom we all miss so deeply. Yours was a complete and beautiful companionship."
Endorsing the letter's contents, she said, "Your talks this past weekend (at general conference) were powerful, and there have been many comments from not only members of the LDS Church but from other people like me who enjoyed the enthusiasm with which you delivered your talks and the punch that (they) had. We thank you for not only what you have done around the world but also locally. We realize that we could not meet the needs of so many people without the generous assistance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and for that we are most grateful. . . . You have built bridges to other faiths and have been gradually closing the gaps, and for that we are most grateful."
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