Press Release

Rothko Chapel Announces 2020 Óscar Romero Award Recipients

April 23, 2020


Gérman Chirinos, Bernadette Demientieff and Jorge Díaz will be honored for their work on climate justice in a live-streamed ceremony in late June

Houston, TX – The Rothko Chapel today announced three recipients of the biannual Óscar Romero Award (ORA), which recognizes courageous, grassroots, human rights advocacy. The 2020 award focuses on climate justice, and the Chapel’s honorees exemplify a commitment to climate advocacy in the face of enormous economic and political pressures. The three recipients of the 2020 Óscar Romero Awards are Gérman Chirinos of Honduras, Bernadette Demientieff of Alaska, and Jorge Díaz of Puerto Rico.

Since its founding in 1971, the Rothko Chapel has operated at the vanguard of social justice, hosting symposia for scholars, activists and religious leaders from around the globe to engage in discussions on issues affecting human rights, and to work towards a culture of mutual understanding. Since 1986, the Chapel has granted the ORA to grassroots activists working under extraordinary circumstances to advance human rights, often without widespread recognition and at great personal risk. The award includes an unrestricted cash stipend given to the awardee and/or organization, and serves to increase the visibility of and recognition for the awardee’s work.

The award is named after Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, who was assassinated by El Salvadorian extremist political forces on March 24, 1980, because of his vocal opposition to military violence and his courageous defense of the poor and marginalized communities in his country. Saint Óscar Romero, canonized in 2018, is championed today for risking his life and reputation to speak out against social injustice and has inspired countless others to advocate for justice in the face of great economic and political pressure.

“This year’s award expands upon our 2019 Spring Symposium, which explored the wide-ranging impact of climate change and our collective responsibility to address the human causes that contribute to a warming planet,” explained David Leslie, Executive Director of the Rothko Chapel.

The three recipients of the 2020 Awards are individuals working within the areas of art, spirituality and human rights who have committed their life’s work toward climate justice and the creation of a more sustainable, livable world.

Gérman Chirinos

Gérman Chirinos is a land and water rights activist from Honduras. He is fighting for the future of formerly protected lands in southern Honduras that are facing invasive development projects that limit community access to water and land. Gérman helped found the Southern Environmental Movement for Life or MASSVIDA, an association of 37 communities in active resistance to the destruction of land and water. Gérman’s steadfast commitment to his work comes at great personal risk, as there have been two attempts on his life. Upon announcement of receiving the ORA, Gérman said, “This award will help to shed light on our struggle and the human rights violations committed against the communities that make up MASSVIDA. We will no longer be silenced; our work will become known.”

Bernadette Demientieff

Bernadette Demientieff of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in tribe in Fort Yukon, Alaska, is Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which was formed in response to proposals to drill for oil in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bernadette has devoted herself to protecting the land that the Gwich’in people refer to as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” She also serves as an advisory board member for NDN Collective, the Care of Creations Task Force, Native Movement Alaska, and Defend the Sacred Alaska.

When asked about her years of environmental advocacy, Bernadette said, “I am not an activist or an environmentalist; the fight came to my front door. We must all remember that we are on a spiritual path and that co-existing and respecting each other’s ways of life is important. We have to remember that being kind and compassionate is part of creating a beautiful world.”

Jorge Díaz

Jorge Díaz, co-founder of AgitArte, is a puppeteer, educator and bicultural organizer committed to working class struggles against oppressive systems. Jorge has been working on the frontlines in response to the climate crisis and political catastrophe caused by government handling of recent natural disasters in Puerto Rico. Jorge is an editor of the book When We Fight, We Win!, which sheds light on the stories, philosophies, tactics, and art of today’s most pressing movements including the environmental movement, immigrant rights, prison justice, and the LGBTQ movement. Jorge is also a founding member of Papel Machete, a collective of radical artists dedicated to education, agitation and solidarity work in Puerto Rico and its Diaspora.

The ORA selection committee comprised of religious, art, and human rights experts was convened to identify the awardees: Cassandra Carmichael, Executive Director at the National Religious Partnership for the Environment; Guillermo Kerber, former Program Executive for Climate Justice at the World Council of Churches; Cara Mertes, Project Director for Moving Image Strategies at the Ford Foundation; Marianne Møllmann, Director of Regional Programs at the Fund for Global Human Rights; Bryan Parras, Beyond Dirty Fuels Gulf Coast Organizer at the Sierra Club; and Nato Thomson, Artistic Director at Philadelphia Contemporary.

In lieu of a public event, the Rothko Chapel will host a virtual award ceremony in late June. The Óscar Romero Award serves as the launch for a series of programming that celebrates and reflects upon the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Chapel’s dedication. To learn more, please visit

About Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is a contemplative space that interconnects art, spirituality and compassionate action through a broad array of public programs and community initiatives.  It is open to the public every day of the year at no charge.  Founded by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the Chapel was dedicated in 1971 as an interfaith, nonsectarian sanctuary, and invites visitors from around the world to experience the power and sanctity of Mark Rothko’s monumental paintings. The Rothko Chapel is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to create opportunities for spiritual growth and dialogue that illuminate our shared humanity and inspire action leading to a world in which all are treated with dignity and respect.



Media Contact:

Elizabeth Kubany

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