The 20th Mother Teresa Award was conferred to a woman who is an educator, women's rights advocate, diplomat, civic leader, and promoter of Philippine arts and culture.
Helena Zoila Benitez received the honor at the recent award ceremonies, where she was described as "a versatile, well-rounded person and modern-day Renaissance lady" who "sees no bounds or limits when it comes to helping the poor," reported the Inquirer News Service.
The award was established in 1983 by the Alfonso Yuchengco Foundation Inc. and Manila Jaycees. Inspired by Mother Teresa, the award is given to outstanding individuals who have dedicated their lives in the service of the poor, the destitute and the abandoned. Mother Teresa, the Albanian-born nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity to take care of the poorest of the poor, died in September 1997 at the age of 87. She was beatified yesterday in Rome.
The National Graduate University of Washington, D.C also inducted Benitez recently into the international Democratic Hall of Fame. She was the third to gain this distinction – the first two were former U.S. presidents Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan. Benitez also received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontefice from Pope John Paul II in 1994 for her service as a catechist and a Catholic lay leader.
Benitez was chosen from among 38 nominees. The award includes a cash prize P1 million (translate to US dollars), half of which she will donate to the Associacion de Damas Filipinas in Paco, Manila, a home for orphans and abandoned children founded by her mother, Francisca Tirona Benitez.
The late Fr. Anthony Hoffste, a priest who spent 35 years tending to the needs of the Hansenites at Tala Leprosarium, was the first Mother Teresa Award recipient. Mother Teresa conferred the award to Fr. Hoffste in Manila in 1983.
Other past recipients include: Sr. Carmen Locsin, who works with overseas Filipinas in Japan; Laureana Franco, a catechist; Fr. Graetian Murray, who took care of orphaned and abandoned children for 40 years; Sr. Maggiorina Arenas, who has spent a good part of her life among the Mangyans of Mindoro; Sr. Eva Fidela Maamo, an accomplished surgeon; and Dr. Aleli Guzman Quirino, who founded the St. Martin de Porres Charity Hospital and devoted her life to charity work.