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Religious sister who treated Covid patients honored as ‘Woman of Courage’

March 9, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Rome, Italy, Mar 9, 2021 / 10:45 am (CNA).- A religious sister and registered nurse who served those sick with COVID-19 in Italy has been honored by the U.S. State Department with the “Women of Courage” Award.

Sister Alicia Vacas Moro is a Comboni Missionary Sister originally from Spain who has served the poor and the sick as a nurse in Egypt, the West Bank, and amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Vacas was awarded the International Women of Courage Award by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a virtual ceremony on March 8 along with 13 other women.

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See in Rome hosted a virtual watch party of the “Women of Courage” awards on International Women’s Day.

Ahead of the ceremony, the U.S. embassy Chargé d’Affaires Patrick Connell said that he was personally inspired by “Sister Alicia’s lifetime devotion to peace and justice, especially on behalf of the most vulnerable.”

“For more than 20 years Sister Alicia has served in war-torn communities in the Middle East advocating for those who could not speak for themselves in places besieged by war and insecurity,” Connell said.

“She worked as a registered nurse and a human rights advocate fighting to empower women, educate children, and provide medical care in predominantly Muslim communities.”

As a Comboni Missionary Sister, Vacas spent eight years serving the poor in Egypt by running a medical clinic that served 150 low-income patients each day. She was later sent to Bethany in the West Bank, where she established kindergartens and training programs for women in the impoverished Bedouin camps.

Vacas currently serves as the regional coordinator for the Comboni Sisters in the Middle East, overseeing the work of 40 sisters aiding human trafficking victims, refugees, and asylum seekers in the region, but in 2020 she flew to Italy to help serve her fellow sisters after an outbreak of COVID-19 at their convent in northern Italy.

The 41-year-old religious sister shared her experience during the pandemic at a virtual symposium hosted by the U.S. and British embassies to the Holy See in June 2020.

“Unfortunately one of our communities in Bergamo got infected at the very beginning of the coronavirus emergency, and we started receiving very bad news from the community,” she said.

“And several young sisters, several of us nurses, we volunteered to go and reach them and to help them.”

Once she arrived Bergamo, located in Lombardy, which was the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, Sister Alicia said that the Comboni motherhouse “was in real chaos” because “everybody was sick.”

She estimated that 45 sisters of the 55 living in Bergamo were ill. Ten Comboni sisters from her community died during the outbreak.

“It has been a very powerful experience to live from inside the suffering of the people in Bergamo,” she said, adding that it has been an experience of Christ’s Passion.

“As a Comboni sister, I think it has been only a privilege … sharing with people’s lives, with people’s sufferings,” she said, calling it a “gift from God for the whole congregation.”

Sister Alicia Vacas was one among 14 honorees at the International Women of Courage ceremony, including Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, imprisoned Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu, and Iranian chess arbiter Shohreh Bayat. Seven Afghan women were also posthumously recognized after they were assassinated in 2020 while serving their communities.

The International Women of Courage award ceremony is now in its 15th year. It focuses on recognizing “women around the globe who have demonstrated exception courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice,” according to the U.S. Department of State.

Vacas is not the first religious sister to be recognized by the U.S. State Department. Sister Orla Treacy, a Loreto sister from Ireland also received the award in 2019 for her work educating girls in South Sudan.

Italian Sister Maria Elena Berini was honored among the “Women of Courage” in 2018 for her service with internally displaced persons from conflict zones in the Central African Republic. A Salesian sister from Syria, Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, who cared for women and children in Damascus during the Syrian Civil War received the award in 2017.

Connell said that Sister Alicia is one of the many “inspiring women religious who work tirelessly to advance human dignity and freedom.”

The U.S. State Department official noted that women religious often serve in areas where governments have failed and where humanitarian organizations struggle to operate at enormous risk to themselves.

“Women religious are among the most effective and vital partners we have on the frontlines in fragile communities around the world. They are often the last beacons of hope for millions of people who otherwise would have no voice,” he said.


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Bishop appointed for S Sudan’s Rumbek diocese after nearly 10 years’ vacancy

March 8, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Rumbek, South Sudan, Mar 8, 2021 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- Father Christian Carlassare, who was appointed Bishop of Rumbek on Monday, nearly 10 years since the death of the diocese’s last bishop, described his appointment as an illustration of “the God of surprises.”

In a message to ACI Africa, Fr. Carlassare said he welcomed his episcopal appointment in a “spirit of faith” even though it was not among his expectations.

“God is the God of surprises. And his surprises, even though challenging, carry always a blessing,” the bishop-elect told ACI Africa March 8.

The member of the Comboni Missionaries added, “I did not expect this appointment, but I welcome it with spirit of faith and availability. May the loving plan of God for the Church of Rumbek and South Sudan be accomplished.”

“I am grateful to Pope Francis and the Church for the love and trust that have shown by calling me to the episcopal ministry and appointing me to be the Bishop of Rumbek.”

Fr. Carlassare, 43, was born in Italy. He studied at the Theological Faculty of Central Italy, and earned a baccalaureate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and a baccalaureate in missiology from the Pontifical Urban University.

He made his solemn profession as a member of the Comboni Missionaries in 2003, and was ordained a priest of the institute in 2004.

The priest went to South Sudan in 2005, and has served as a pastor. He was vice provincial for the Comboni Missionaries in South Sudan from 2017 to 2019, and from 2020 he has served as vicar general of the Diocese of Malakal.

The Diocese of Rumbek became vacant in July 2011 upon the death of Bishop Cesare Mazzolari, who was also a Comboni Missionary.

Fr. Fernando Colombo, another Comboni Missionary, was administrator of the diocese until December 2013, when the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples appointed Fr. John Mathiang as diocesan coordinator.

Fr. Carlassare acknowledged with appreciation the leadership of Fr. Mathiang, alongside members of the clergy ministering in the diocese, members of various religious orders, as well as the people of God.

“My thought goes to all the people of the diocese and their desire to encounter Christ in the Church,” he said, adding, “My obligation goes to all priests that are serving in the diocese, in particular Fr. John Mathiang for his commitment to lead the diocese in the past years as diocesan coordinator.”

“My appreciation goes to all the religious institutes and communities of men and women that enrich the diocese with their charisms, among them I show special gratitude to my confreres, the Comboni Missionaries and Sisters, especially those we have shared in the ministry,” he told ACI Africa.

He recognized the commitment of laity serving in the Rumbek diocese, saying, “I also acknowledge the commitment of many lay people, whether native from Rumbek or from other places and countries, those who work in the offices and institutions of the diocese, and committed Christians such as catechists, members of church councils, associations, men and women, youth and elders who form and build up this family of God.”

“I want to express my readiness to join the Diocese of Rumbek entering in the journey that you have been doing so far and offering my humble self,” the bishop-elect said.

At this moment, he added, “what I ask you more is for your prayer, with the trust that our Lord who started this good work will assist me with his grace and bring it to completion.”
“I also recall the person of the late bishop Cesare Mazzolari who gave his life to the people of Rumbek with the spirit of a good shepherd,” Fr. Carlassare said.

He went on to thank the people of God in the Malakal diocese, among whom he has been ministering since he arrived in South Sudan in 2005, saying, “I am also indebted with the Diocese of Malakal for the spirit of communion, support and kindness: May God reward you.”

Meanwhile, Fr. Mathiang has expressed his best wishes to the bishop-elect, promising collaboration.

In an interview with ACI Africa March 8, he said, “The message is just wishing him the best and then we promise collaboration and a good progress, whatever we have been doing he comes and joins us and we push ahead.”

In his service as diocesan coordinator, Fr. Mathiang told ACI Africa he has learned love, and collaboration from the people of God in the diocese, as well as the “spirit of hard work and interest in development that they have been expressing to me and to the Church for all the things done over the years.”

The love, collaboration and hard work needs to continue, he said, adding, “It’s not all about me, it’s about Jesus Christ and about the Church. The people have to continue that spirit; what we need is the progress ahead.”