In 1961, Peter Benenson, a British lawyer, was angered by a newspaper report of two Portuguese students sentenced to seven years in prison for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom during the autocratic regime of António de Oliveira Salazar. He wrote to the editor of The Observer. On 28 May, Benenson’s article, entitled “The Forgotten Prisoners”, was published. As a direct result Amnesty International was founded in London in July 1961. But sad to say difficulties arose in the new found organization and in 1964 Benenson, the founder, stood down.
The coming and going of Benenson reminds me of the
visionary Henry Durant the founder of the Red Cross and the YMCA in Europe. The idea of the Red Cross was born in 1859, when as a young Swiss man, Durant came upon the scene of a bloody battle in Solferino, Italy, where 40,000 men lay dead or dying on the battlefield and the wounded were lacking medical attention. Dunant organized local people to bind the soldiers’ wounds and to feed and comfort them. On his return, he called for the creation of national relief societies to assist those wounded in war, and pointed the way to the future Geneva Conventions. But, later in life Durant separated from, or was excluded from, both of these great organizations and for years he lived a difficult, secluded life.
A favourite saying of mine is ‘No one is perfect!’ Sounds glib but I believe it. After years of working with people and reading hundreds of biographies and throw in a growing self-knowledge, I am sure it is the truth. These visionary men Benenson and Durant also had their faults and failings and these created distance between them the great causes they had birthed. I am glad to say that in the end for the two of them there was recognition and reunion. A core principle of the Christian faith is that we are all sinners (flawed), and if we choose to accept it, we are all forgiven and we are all needed to contribute to great works. Thank you Jesus! Stan
In 1991, Benenson was again honored by Amnesty
International and here he lights the Amnesty candle.
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