The Aurora Prize, presented by George Clooney, aims to honour those who stood up for Armenians during the 1915 genocide

A priest who saved 1,500 Muslims from slaughter in the Central African Republic has been shortlisted for a new $1 million peace prize.

Fr Bernard Kinvi, of the Order of St Camillus, provided shelter for those fleeing the anti-balaka militia at his mission hospital in Bossemptele for several months. He then helped them escape on lorries across the border into Cameroon.

Fr Kinvi is one of four people shortlisted for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, given to “individuals who put themselves at risk to enable others to survive”.

The prize will be presented by George Clooney at a ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia, next month.

Three of the four finalists are Catholic. They are Dr Tom Catena, the sole surgeon for 750,000 people in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, who said his work is inspired by St Francis of Assisi; Marguerite Barankitse, who saved thousands of lives and cared for orphans and refugees during the civil war in Burundi; and Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who has worked to end bonded labour in Pakistan.

Priest helps a Muslim man climb down from an open truck in Central Africa Republic

The prize was created by an initiative called 100 Lives and aims to honour those who saved Armenians during the 1915 genocide.

Vartan Gregorian, an Aurora Prize committee member, said: “We created the Aurora Prize not just to honour, but to support the unsung heroes who reclaim humanity and stand up to such oppression and injustice.

“One hundred years ago, strangers stood up against persecution on behalf of our ancestors, and today we thank them by recognising those who act in the same spirit in the face of modern atrocities.”

The winner of the prize will be given $100,000 and will be able to nominate a charity to receive a grant of $1 million.

Fr Kinvi, whose hospital serves an area the size of Switzerland, told the Guardian: “When I became a priest, I undertook to serve the sick even if it meant putting my life in danger,” he says. “I said that but I didn’t really know what it meant.

“But when the war came, I understood what it means to risk your life. Being a priest is about more than giving blessings; it’s about standing with those who have lost everything.”

The Aurora Prize selection committee includes Nobel laureates Elie Wiesel, Oscar Arias, Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee; former president of Ireland Mary Robinson; human rights activist Hina Jilani; former Australian foreign minister and president emeritus of the International Crisis Group Gareth Evans; president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian; and Academy Award-winning actor George Clooney.