By Mariana Barillas
CatholicU, Spring 2023
The Catholic University of America celebrated being the first higher-education institution to twice host the $1 million Opus Prize, one of the most prestigious annual faith-based humanitarian honors in the world.
University President Dr. Peter Kilpatrick announced Community Renewal International (CRI) founder Mack McCarter 2022 Opus Prize laureate during a Nov. 3, 2022, ceremony held on campus. CRI, which has a presence across the United States and in Africa, works with local residents to revitalize cities through interrelated educational and community building programs.
“My heart is overflowing with unbelievable gratitude,” said McCarter upon receiving the award.
Finalists who each received a $100,000 award on behalf of their respective organizations were Sister Annie Credidio, BVM, who leads Damien House, a residential hospital in Guayaquil, Ecuador, for Hansen’s disease (leprosy) patients; and Imam Muhammad Nurayn Ashafa and Pastor James Movel Wuye, co-founders of Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC), which works to resolve tensions peacefully amid escalating religious conflict in Nigeria.
The Opus Prize Foundation partners with a different Catholic university each year to help organize the nomination process, select student and faculty Opus Prize ambassadors to travel to each nonprofit for due diligence trips, and host awards-week speaking engagements across campus celebrating three trailblazing nonprofits leading social change through servant leadership.
“I am so touched to be with you on this journey and I hope we continue this connection,” said Sister Credidio, reflecting on the bonds built by meeting the other honorees for the first time at the University (IMC co-founder Imam Ashafa could not join his fellow finalists in person due to travel visa delays compounded by ongoing violence in Nigeria). “This whole week has been an injection of new energy … a witness to God’s power working in all of us.”
Each thanked the University for the hospitality and for providing an opportunity to connect with each other, with Pastor Movel describing McCarter and Credidio as newfound brother and sister.
We dedicate this peace prize to all humanity,” said Pastor Movel at the awards ceremony.
Biochemistry senior Darby Drake, who was one of several Opus Prize student ambassadors to co-host the awards ceremony, said she was so inspired by the CRI neighborhoods she visited in Shreveport that she is working with the organization to start a chapter in her hometown of Frederick, Md.
“I know my life will never be the same thanks to the Opus Prize experience,” said Drake.
The theme for the 2022 Opus Prize was “Inspiring Changemakers,” a message that continues to resonate with the campus community. Opus Prize committee co-chair Emmjolee Mendoza Waters said she and some of the other committee members were so inspired by the Opus Prize that they are in the process of launching the Cardinal Changemakers award, which will recognize University student service leaders by helping fund their big idea to make a difference in the world. They expect to begin accepting applications this spring.
“I hope students are inspired by these people of faith and a seed is planted so that they too will grow into inspiring changemakers,” said Mendoza Waters.
During Opus Prize week, McCarter led a tour of southeast Washington, D.C., where he is working with community members to bring the CRI model to their neighborhood. Since the awards ceremony, McCarter continues to be a frequent guest at classes across campus where he mentors students in their projects to make a difference in the world.
Mendoza Waters said she is excited about the opportunities for engagement with each of the Opus Prize honorees, especially as Community Renewal Capital Area is local.
“I know the relationships built through the Opus Prize experience are critical to building communities for change,” said Mendoza Waters.