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.

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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.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency's Nansen Awards Committee has named Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, as the winner of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award. The Committee was impressed by the political and civic courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta.

Dr. Camilleri first became aware of the plight of refugees as a 16-year-old girl when a priest visited her school to talk about his work. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm where she came into contact with refugees. As Dr. Camilleri's interest grew in this humanitarian field, she started to work with the JRS office in Malta in 1997.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate attacks. And this April, arsonists set fire to both Dr. Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family. The perpetrators were never caught but the attacks shocked Maltese society and drew condemnation from the Government of Malta. Dr. Camilleri continues to lead the JRS Malta legal team as Assistant Director.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

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.
Nansen Refugee Award: Past WinnersPlay video

Nansen Refugee Award: Past Winners

At the 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award ceremony a moment was taken to remember past Nansen Refugee Award laureates.