Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 10, 2003
Iraq violence kills 'renaissance man'
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
The term "Renaissance man" is often overused. Just as often, it's undeserved.
But in the case of Sergio Vieira de Mello, he was all that and much, much more. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1948, he spent years studying in France and Brazil, achieving double doctorates from the University of Paris. Gifted in languages, Vieira de Mello spoke fluent Spanish, Portuguese, English and French.
Drawn toward making the world a safer and more just place to live, he joined the staff of the United Nations in 1969 and went on to help refugees around the world. Always, it seemed, the missions he undertook were difficult and complex. It's not exaggeration to say that almost anywhere trouble lurked, Sergio Vieira de Mello went there to help solve the problem.
His assignments included Bangladesh after it achieved independence from Pakistan in 1971. He was stationed in Cyprus in 1974 to bring stability to a land torn by hostilities between Greeks and Turks. He went on to Mozambique, to help that war-torn nation after it became independent from Portugal. When the United Nations attempted to bring peace to Lebanon in the savage years of 1981 through 1983, he was there.
In more recent years, this commissioner for human rights worked avidly for the people of Kosovo after they broke the bonds of Serbian oppression. Then he delighted in successfully helping the people of East Timor achieve democratic stability after their liberation from Indonesia. Those who knew this incredibly dedicated man tell us that he drew renewed strength and energy from seeing people who had known violence and injustice discover the gifts of freedom and possibility.
He was a natural choice to represent the UN in its current efforts to bring stability and peace to the people of Iraq. Selected personally by Secretary General Kofi Annan, Vieira de Mello was seen as someone who could bring all parties to a place of reason. He had a natural empathy for everyone involved in this struggle.
And while appreciating the gift of liberation from tyranny brought to the people of Iraq by the United States, he also sympathized with the objections of those who resented the foreign occupiers. He said, "It is traumatic. It must be one of the most humiliating periods in their history. Who would like to see their country occupied?"
At the same time, he worked wonderfully with the Americans. In other words, he was a human bridge in a world filled with chasms. In a globe filled with dividers, he worked tirelessly to be a unifier.
Recently, his work came to an end - not by choice, but by violence. Terrorists bombed the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. Among the many who died that day was Sergio Vieira de Mello. His loss brought this response from the UN General Secretary: "I can think of no one we could less afford to spare."
Even in the moment of death, his compassion shone. Clearly in agony, he nonetheless asked about his coworkers, expressing concern for those who were wounded or killed. This was a remarkable person and his death leaves a hole in the fabric of human society.
Killed at age 55, with much that remained to be done, Sergio Vieira de Mello used his too-short life for the cause of peace and understanding. He will be deeply missed, but in his life is a message we all need to emulate. We can and do make a difference. The Christophers has long proclaimed the truth that every human life matters; that every person contains the possibility for making the world a better place; that none of us is an accident, but was put here by God to make a difference for the good.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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