Important Figures

In this section, you will find a brief summary of the lives and work of the people after whom our programs are named.

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, born January 15, 1929, was one of the principal advocates for civil rights and the fight against racial segregation and discrimination in the 1960s in the United States.

One of the most important milestones of his career was the 1963 March on Washington for the defense of the right to vote and a better education for African Americans in the United States. At the march, King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to over two hundred thousand people about the vision of living in a country with equal rights for people of color and white people. This, along with numerous other acts of courage, earned him the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his fight for civil rights throughout the country and worldwide.

Martin Luther King was assassinated April 4, 1968 while preparing to march in Memphis, Tennessee. His funeral occurred in his birthplace, Atlanta, and his grave is considered a national monument.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was born October 2, 1869 in the coastal city Porbandar, India. Gandhi profoundly influenced India’s political and social landscape in the first half of the twentieth century. Gandhi’s actions were guided by the doctrine of ahimsa—also known as non-violent resistance—and when necessary, they escalated to social disobedience through the methods of hunger strikes and refusal to vote.

One of Gandhi’s most important accomplishments was the Salt March which occurred from March to April of 1930. Along the coasts of the Indian Ocean in Admedabad Gandhi picked up a little salt, inviting others to imitate his actions as a direct action of resistance against the British monopoly on salt. While this demonstration landed Gandhi in prison for nine months, the Viceroy could not control rising pressures and subsequently liberated prisoners and granted Indians the right to salt production. This served as one of the first steps towards achieving Indian independence from British rule.

Gandhi died on January 30, 1948 at 78 years old at the hands of Vinayak Nathuram Godse, a member of the ultra-conservative party who accused Gandhi of weakening the political state with his visions of equal rights for every member of society.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, born on July 18, 1918, was an active figure in the struggle against apartheid (a political system based on the separation of the population into Bantustans or states segregating blacks and whites). Mandela was particularly active in the fight against the policies of H.F. Verwoerd which were aimed at the prohibition of the housing and education of black South Africans. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s fight for Indian independence after World War II, Mandela practiced non-violent resistance.

However, Mandela partially abandoned this method during the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, an armed struggle that aimed to sabotage important economic centers for the government. In the wake of the Sharpeville massacre, Mandela co-founded “Spear of the Nation,” an armed group seeking to end the segregationist policies of apartheid. Mandela’s involvement in “Spear of the Nation” resulted in his twenty-seven year imprisonment.

During his time in prison, Mandela gained recognition and reputation worldwide, becoming one of the icons of the fight against apartheid. In 1994 apartheid officially ended and Mandela became the first president of color of South Africa, just one year after having received the Nobel Peace Prize with Frederik de Klerk. During his tenure, Mandela undertook the task of national reconciliation. Some of his major accomplishments included the new division of provinces (each of which would have their own government elected by citizens themselves) and providing children with bread in high schools to fight hunger and the attention deficit provoked by hunger.

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel was one of the founders of Service, Peace and Justice Foundation (SERPAJ) in 1974, an organization that now has roots in almost all of Latin America. SERPAJ’s work, inspired by the doctrines of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, led them to win the Juan XXIII Memorial Peace Prize, granted by Pax Cristi International. In 1975 Pérez Esquivel helped to create a permanent assembly for human rights at the United Nations.

Pérez Esquivel has been part of important milestones in the defense of Latin American human rights, especially in Argentina, where he serves as President of SERPAJ. An example of his activism includes his hunger strike carried out in 1988 to protest against the amnesty of Argentinian soldiers accused of violating human rights. Pérez Esquivel carried out a strike again in 1998, giving way to an investigation called “The Archives of Terror,” documenting the disappearance and fates of thousands of Latin Americans in Operation Condor.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Dr. Rigoberta Menchú Tum is one of the most ferocious fighters in the struggle against the violation of human rights of indigienous people not only in Guatemala, her home county, but also at an international level. Her activism includes the preparation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, earning her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.

Rigoberta Menchú currently chairs the foundation that bears her name, continuing her fight for education, production, and infrastructure in the neediest areas of Guatamala and for the victims of racism and discrimination at an international level.

Oscar Romero

Óscar Arnulfo Romero was one of the principal actors that denounced the military violence of Arturo Molina in the 1970s in El Salvador. He fought against the El Salvadorian military troops which persecuted peasants and priests.

Óscar Arnulfo Romero was appointed Archbishop of El Salvador on February 8, 1977. Due to the expulsions and murders of priests and laypeople, he refused to attend any meeting with the government until they admitted to their crimes. Additionally Romero promoted the establishment of a permanent committee to ensure the fulfillment of human rights.

Oscar Romero was assassinated on March 23, 1980—Palm Sunday—after delivering a homily directed at the army and police. He was killed at the altar during mass at the Chapel of the Divine Providence by a sniper who still to this day has not been found guilty.

Cardenal Raúl Silva Henríquez

Appointed Cardinal by the Pope in 1962, Raúl Silva Henríquez had the difficult task of confronting one of the most complicated times of Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Nevertheless his faith in the conviction and vocation of service motivated his sustained efforts to find solutions to the social problems that afflicted the country. Because of his work in defense of human rights, he received the Human Rights Prize from the Latin American Jewish Congress in 1972.

Furthermore, the United Nations recognized his renowned activism in the Vicariate of Solidarity, awarding him the Human Rights Prize on December 10, 1978. At various points during his time as a cardinal and Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Henríquez was President of the Episcopal Conference of Chile, member of the Permanent Committee, and Chancellor of Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

Pierre Dubois

During the military dictatorship, Pierre Dubois was a protector of the dissidents of the Pinochet regime and was an active collaborator with the Vicariate of Solidarity. During this period he served as parish priest in various churches including José María Caro and the parish of Sacred Heart of Jesus.

However, Dubois’ work only lasted until 1986 when he was deported along with Franciscan missionaries only hours before an attack against Pinochet from his military forces.

In 1996 Dubois was regranted citizenship and was recognized for his work involving marginalized groups in Santiago.

Dubois died on September 28, 2012 and his life was commemorated for the countless times that he defended his people and risked his own self.

Juan Alsina

Joan Alsina Hurtos, also known as the “laborer priest,” carried out difficult work in the communities of San Antonio Parish area where he served as a vicar. He organized summer camps as well as religion and philosophy classes. Likewise, his presence in San Antonio Parish helped to establish the first contact with the labor movement of Catholic action.

Unfortunately Joan Alsina’s life was interrupted in 1973, the year of the military coup. At this time, Alsina worked as chief of staff in San Juan de Dios Hospital, where he was detained, taken to Bulnes Bridge, and shot.

Miguel Woorward

Contemporary of Joan Alsina, Miguel Woodward was also a practitioner of liberation theology, practicing as a labor priest and working as a turner in a shipyard in Valparaíso. He practiced until 1996 when he separated from the Peñablanca parish and formed a small religious community in Cerro Placeres.

He also actively participated in the Popular Community Action Movement (movimiento de acción popular comunitaria) and the Board of Supply and Prices (junta de abastecimientos y precios), leading to conflicts with the ecclesiastical authorities and causing him to leave his priestly work.