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.