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Catholic nun, Greek Orthodox priest among 17 to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Sister Simone Campbell, Father Alexander Karloutsos
Sister Simone Campbell (R) and Father Alexander Karloutsos (L) |

Two prominent Christian leaders — Sister Simone Campbell, a progressive activist Catholic nun; and Father Alexander Karloutsos, the former vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America — are among 17 accomplished civilians who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House Thursday.

The medal "is the Nation's highest civilian honor, presented 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 said in a statement on Friday.

Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former executive director of the Catholic social justice organization NETWORK. She is also well-known for her advocacy for economic justice, immigration reform and healthcare policy.

Campbell is among faith leaders who advocated for the Affordable Care Act. She also prayed at the Democratic National Convention in 2020 and led a campaign urging Catholics not to vote for former President Donald Trump. 

Sister Maribeth Larkin, general director of Sisters of Social Service, celebrated the recognition of "one of our own."

"The Sisters of Social Service … are deeply honored that one of our own, Sister Simone Campbell, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on Thursday, July 7, 2022," Larkin began in a statement Friday.

"Like all Sisters of Social Service, Sister Simone Campbell works to live out the mission of the community, striving for the common good in light of the Social Mission of the Church. For Sister Simone, her work has been a bit more public with her leadership of Nuns on the Bus and as the Executive Director of NETWORK, Lobby for Catholic Social Justice," she continued. "We are grateful that Simone's fidelity to that call to justice is being recognized."

In his more than 50 years of service as a priest, Father Karloutsos counseled several U.S. presidents and was named by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Archbishop Elpidophoros, who leads the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, expressed joy with the selection of Father Karloutsos to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He recalled that Archbishop Iakovos is the only other Greek-American to receive the award when it was granted to him by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

"I am so very happy for Father Alex, Presvytera Xanthi, and their children and grandchildren. This is such an exceptional distinction that it practically leaves me speechless," said Archbishop Elpidophoros in a statement.

"That a son of the Church, the son of a priest, born in Greece and humbly serving His Church for over fifty years is to be recognized by the highest civilian honor of the United States, is a moment in which every Greek Orthodox and every Greek American should take tremendous pride, especially in this week when we celebrate the Centennial of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America."

"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," the archbishop continued. "Rather, I know that we all send him our warmest and most heartfelt congratulations, with our acknowledgment of this profound recognition by the President of the United States."

The late U.S. senator and 2008 Republican nominee for president John McCain, who died in 2018, will be given the medal posthumously. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, will also be awarded the medal. 

Also receiving the honor will be an award-winning actor and producer Denzel Washington, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wy., and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. 

Also selected to receive the award from President Biden are New York critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay, the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials; Julieta García, the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president; and Fred Gray, one of the first black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction who also represented civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. as an attorney. 

The remaining recipients include Khizr Khanis, a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center; Diane Nash, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; the late Richard Trumka, who served as president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO; Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, one of only seven women generals in the Armed Forces when she retired in 1985; and Raúl Yzaguirre, a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza.

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