(RNS) — Two faith leaders — a Catholic nun and a Greek Orthodox Christian priest — will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, according to a White House announcement Friday (July 1).
Sister Simone Campbell, former executive director of the lobbying group NETWORK, known for spearheading the “Nuns on the Bus” movement, and the Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, the former vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, will be among the 17 Americans recognized in a ceremony at the White House on July 7th.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is given to “individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors,” the White House announcement said.
Campbell, who was an informal adviser to President Joe Biden during his presidential run in 2020, has long been an outspoken voice for social justice. She came to national attention with “Nuns on the Bus,” a series of cross-country campaigns in which Catholic religious sisters toured the United States in support of economic justice, immigration reform, and voter turnout.
“In a time when so many struggle economically and still do not have access to quality healthcare, our work is being acknowledged for its faith-seeking justice,” said Campbell in a statement on Friday.
“I am grateful to President Biden for this honor and trust that our work for economic justice and political healing might receive a renewed focus in these challenging times,” she added.
As the top deputy to Archbishop Demetrios of America, the leader of Greek Orthodox Christianity in the United States from 2004 until Demetrios’ retirement in 2019, Karloutsos has counseled several U.S. presidents, according to the White House. He has known Biden since 1980, and the president has visited Karloutsos’ church on Long Island, New York. Karloutsos told the Greek Reporter Biden is the “closest friend” of the eight presidents he has known.
Before his service with Demetrios, Karloutsos was a special assistant in Constantinople to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who named Karloutsos a protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the highest honor a married priest can attain in the Orthodox Church.
“This is a unique honor for Father Alex, whose decades of ministry in our Archdiocese and the Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot be summed up with any amount of words,” said Archbishop Elpidophoros, the current head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, in a press release.
The recognition of Karloutsos coincides with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s celebrations of its centenary year.
Campbell and Karloutsos will join the other recipients — including civil rights activists, actors and athletes— who, the White House said, “embody the soul of the nation – hard work, perseverance, and faith.”