Dr. Zilda Arns Neumann, a pediatrician who founded and leads Pastoral da Criana (the Pastoral of the Child), a public health program that works with more than 265,000 volunteers to help poor families in her native Brazil, will receive the third annual Opus Prize in a Nov. 8 ceremony at the University of Notre Dame.
The $1 million Opus Prize is affiliated with the Opus Group, a real estate development company based in Minneapolis, and is given annually to honor a person who "combines a driving entrepreneurial spirit with an abiding faith to combat poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease and injustice." The award is annually presented by a Catholic college or university in partnership with the Opus Prize Foundation to provide students with inspiring examples of humanitarian work rooted in religious faith.
Neumann organized the Pastoral of the Child in 1983 at the urging of her brother, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, then archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Although an ecumenical project, it takes advantage of the Brazilian Catholic Church's religious infrastructure, combining local community organizing and large-scale public health initiatives to promote the health of children and to reduce infant mortality.
"Children are the seed for peace or violence in the future, depending on how they are cared for and stimulated," Neumann says of her work. "Thus, their family and community environment must be sown to grow a fairer and more fraternal world, a world to serve life and hope."
Enlisting about 265,000 volunteers, most of them poor women working in their own communities, the Pastoral of the Child each year serves more than 100,000 pregnant women and nearly 2 million children in Brazil. In the impoverished communities it serves, the infant mortality rate has been reduced to 15 deaths per thousand, roughly half the national average.
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