Pope Francis meets and blesses Nansen Refugee Award winner in Rome

News Stories, 2 October 2013

© Fotografia Felici
Pope Francis says a prayer with Sister Angélique in St Peter's Square today.

VATICAN CITY, Italy, October 2 (UNHCR) Two days after receiving one of the world's top humanitarian awards, Congolese nun Angélique Namaika on Tuesday met Pope Francis following a general audience in the Vatican's St Peter's Square.

"Meeting the Pope was such a great honour for me," Sister Angélique said. "I never dreamed that I would meet the Holy Father, and when I found out I cried for a long time. When I met him I said, 'I am from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and I carry with me the women and children who have been victims of atrocities by the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army], so that you can bless them as well as me.'"

She quoted Pope Francis as telling her, "I know your cause, you have to continue helping refugees [and internally displaced people]." She said he then placed both hands on her head before praying and then blessing her and the hundreds of women she has helped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On Monday night in Geneva, the 46-year-old Roman Catholic nun was presented with UNHCR's prestigious Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless and courageous work on behalf of female survivors of forced displacement, violence and sexual abuse in Orientale province, north-east Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Most of the 2,000 women and girls helped directly by Sister Angélique in and around the town of Dungu were victims of the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, a brutal Ugandan rebel group that moved into the region in 2005. They tell of being abducted, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape and other human rights abuses.

Through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, Sister Angélique has helped these victims transform their lives by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go back to school. She has also stood up for their rights.

UNHCR Regional Representative Laurens Jolles, who was with Sister Angélique in the Vatican's St Peter's Square when Pope Francis stopped to talk, said the meeting had added significance given the pope's interest in refugee and migration issues.

In July, weeks after being elected, Pope Francis paid a symbolic visit to Italy's Lampedusa Island in the Mediterranean, meeting a group of recently arrived migrants and calling for understanding for the thousands including refugees and asylum-seekers who risk their lives every year on the high seas to reach Europe. He also prayed for those who lost their lives in the attempt.

"UNHCR very much appreciates the attention and interest His Holiness has continuously demonstrated towards the forcibly displaced over the course of his papacy. His interest towards Sister Angélique's work is a further expression of his closeness to the most vulnerable," said Jolles.



Nansen Refugee Award: Pope Francis meets Sister AngéliquePlay video

Nansen Refugee Award: Pope Francis meets Sister Angélique

Pope Francis meets and blesses UNHCR's 2013 Nansen Refugee Award winner Sister Angélique Namaika in St Peter's Square, Vatican City.

The Nansen Refugee Award

The Nansen Refugee Award

Given to individuals or organizations for outstanding service in the cause of refugees.

Nansen Biography

Fridtjof Nansen was a scientist, polar explorer, diplomat, statesman and humanist, with a deep compassion for his fellow human beings. In 1921 Nansen was appointed the League of Nations' first High Commissioner for Refugees and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year in recognition of his work for refugees. UNHCR established the Nansen Refugee Award in his honour in 1954.

Nansen Biography

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

UNHCR's annual Nansen Refugee Award was posthumously awarded to Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony in Washington DC on October 29 for his life-long commitment to refugee rights. Kennedy's wife, Victoria, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. In presenting the award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, praised the "vision and commitment" of Senator Kennedy in his support for the displaced.

The prize money of US$100,000 will be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy. The Nansen Award is given to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the first global High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

2012 Nansen artists line-up

Singer, songwriter, campaigner, activist, and UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Annie Lennox, OBE will perform at this year's United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Nansen Refugee Award being held in Geneva on October 1st and broadcast internationally.

The line-up, which also includes classical singer and UNHCR Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks, Swiss star Bastian Baker and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Madam Leymah Gbowee, will pay tribute to this year's Nansen Refugee Award laureate.

TV presenter Isabelle Kumar will be the Master of Ceremonies on 1st October. The winner of this year's Nansen Refugee Award will be announced in advance of the award ceremony at 10:30 am on September 18 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

2012 Nansen artists line-up

2015 Nansen Award winner Aqeela AsifiPlay video

2015 Nansen Award winner Aqeela Asifi

One of the humanitarian world's most prestigious awards has been given to an Afghan refugee teacher, Aqeela Asifi. Twenty-three years after arriving in Pakistan, her original tent-school is a now permanent building. Asifi's dedication has helped guide more than 1,000 girl students through to the eighth grade - with each student receiving a nationally-endorsed certificate confirming their achievement. Asifi's efforts encouraged more schools to open in the village and now another 1,500 young people (900 girls, 650 boys) are enrolled in six schools throughout the refugee village today.
Nansen Refugee Award: The Global Refugee CrisisPlay video

Nansen Refugee Award: The Global Refugee Crisis

At the 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award ceremony a moment was taken to reflect on the endless refugee plight.