Presbyterian minister Reverend Benjamin Weir was kidnapped in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 8, 1984, while out walking with his wife, Carol. Members of Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group in Lebanon, held Weir for sixteen months-twelve of them in solitary confinement-along with six other Americans who were released later, including journalist Terry Anderson. Before the kidnapping, Weir had spent nearly three decades in Lebanon as a missionary and a teacher at the Near East School of Theology. In his various positions in the Presbyterian church since his release, Weir has been a voice of reconciliation and tolerance.
The first non-Italian Roman Catholic pope in 456 years, His Holiness Pope John Paul II was born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920. Ordained a priest in 1946, he became a professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin and the University of Kraków. In 1978, he began his reign as one of the most active pontiffs in history. After surviving a 1981 assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Agca, he visited Agca in his cell and forgave him. A conservative on social issues, His Holiness has traveled throughout both the Catholic and non-Catholic world- including in recent years Cuba and the Middle East-as a vocal proponent of human rights and peace.
He died on April 2, 2005 and his funeral is estimated to have been the largest single Christian pilgrimage in history with several million Catholics gathered in the streets of Rome to pay their respects.
The son of a North Carolina dairy farmer, Reverend Billy Graham became one of the most influential Christian evangelists in American history. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, he was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939. He built his reputation after World War II through radio broadcasts, tent revivals, and rallies in the United States and Britain. He was first invited to the White House in 1949 by President Truman and provided counsel to every subsequent administration. From
the pulpit, he spoke out against apartheid and segregation in the American South. He received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. Born to a peasant family, His Holiness was recognized at the age of two, in accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the thirteenth Dalai Lama, and thus an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion. In 1959, nine years after China invaded Tibet, he fled to Dharamsala, India, where he lives today as leader of the Tibetan government in exile. He travels throughout the world teaching Tibetan Buddhism’s central tenet of compassion. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and was also awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal in October of 2007.
Mother Teresa became known to the world for her selfless work with the “poorest of the poor” in Calcutta, India. She was born Agnes Bojaxhiu in Skopje, now the capital of Macedonia, in 1910, and began her novitiate in India in 1928. Since its inception in 1950, her order, the Missionaries of Charity, has opened more than five hundred centers around the world to help the dying and destitute. Mother Teresa is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, amongst many other awards and honorary degrees for her charity work. She died in 1997. The Catholic Church is currently reviewing her cause for sainthood.