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Issue Date:  March 7, 2008

Beautiful, powerful women

As film aficionados ease away from the glitter of Oscar Night, we might all take note of the world’s need for beautiful people. What would our stories be without the perfect faces to embody our own aspirations, the lithe forms to carry us vicariously into the romance and drama the movies depict? A Web site (glumbert.com/wii/view.php?name=womenfilm) displays in seamless morphed succession the history of the faces of Hollywood’s leading film actresses, their high cheekbones, full lips and alluring eyes -- accepted and familiar standards for beauty.

But because we also know the chaos and insecurities of many celebrity lives, we are right to pursue beauty beyond appearance in lives where selfless dedication and genuine accomplishment reveal character as beauty’s truer foundation. The Xavier University exhibit “1,000 PeaceWomen Across the Globe” (see story) offers us a roll call of extraordinary witnesses in the cause of peace and social development. Behold: 1,000 beautiful, powerful women.

The exhibit, now on display in Cincinnati, follows from a 2005 project by a Swiss-based nonprofit organization to nominate these 1,000 women, representing 150 nations, for the Nobel Peace Prize. The effort did not result in the prize, but it has created a network of awareness and collaboration for peace projects all over the world. The project recognizes 10 categories of service, from reconciliation to peace education, from health care to gender justice. It recognizes the extraordinary gifts of women at every level to restore peace, heal hurts, prevent violence by building up every aspect of community.

The photos that make up the exhibit and the companion book show better than any Hollywood publicity stills the scope of peacemaking these women do. Here are working images, women in the midst of children, at the lectern, the meeting table, the clinic, in the field, on the picket line. When peace is announced from the top by governments, the way has first been prepared at the community level, where women have been steadfastly at work, every person respected, every issue addressed, need upon need met.

What ought to seem strange to us, but is hardly surprising, is that unless we are part of this network ourselves, we will probably not recognize the names or faces of most of these women. While their efforts may be the reason peace exists in many local or regional situations, they work anonymously. We herald them in our pages with deep gratitude.

National Catholic Reporter, March 7, 2008

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