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. (Photo courtesy Jake Wright)
OTTAWA — Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai was given the gift of honorary Canadian citizenship during Holy Week, and left behind some inspiring and challenging words for a couple of young Catholic women who work on Parliament Hill.
Yousafzai, 19, became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, two years after the young Pakistani-born Muslim woman survived an assassination attempt by Taliban extremists intent on ending her efforts to promote education for girls in her homeland.
The story of her heroic cause in the face of daily danger made her a international lightning rod for justice. Canada first invited her to speak in the House of Commons in 2014, but the scheduled appearance was the same day, Oct. 22, as the shooting on Parliament Hill that killed a soldier at the National War Memorial.
On April 12, the invitation was finally fulfilled and Yousafzai became the sixth person to be awarded honorary Canadian citizenship.
Kelsey Regnier, 26, 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 added: ”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, 22, who works in MP Garnett Genuis’s office, said Yousafzai’s visit had been long anticipated.
“(Her speech) was important for many to hear,” 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 talked of the hatred which infects 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 do 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 honours she has received. She reminded her of St. Ireneaus’ 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.”