, 23 November, 2019 / 2:04 AM
Kenyan-born religious nun ministering in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was on Thursday, November 21 named the winner of this year’s Opus Prize, receiving US1 million at Saint Louis University’s (SLU) Center for Global Citizenship in Missouri, USA.
Sr. Catherine Mutindi, a member of the religious congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd was selected based on her apostolate toward ending child labor, a ministry realized through Bon Pasteur (Good Shepherd) Kolwezi, a project she founded in Lualaba Province, south of DRC.
“I am humbled, totally,” Sr. Mutindi told ACI Africa Friday, November 22 in a telephone interview and explained, “It is a mission that has global networks within and beyond the congregation, so it is a case story of what 'power together' for human dignity, the dignity of life, and for social justice can achieve.”
“We are all connected and together we can make the world a much better place,” added Sr. Mutindi who left Kenya’s capital Nairobi for her current mission in DRC in March 2012.
Asked how she reacted to the news of her selection as winner, she told ACI Africa, “Never dreamt. Great surprise. Just living the life I chose, very humbling, not expected.”
Awarded annually in partnership with a Catholic university, the Opus Prize is known to be “one of the world’s most prestigious recognitions for faith-based, nonprofit innovation and work.”
Explaining the merits of Sr. Mutindi in qualifying for the annual award that targets leaders in faith-based humanitarian service, the director of Opus Prize Foundation, Don Neureuther has been quoted as saying, “Sr. Catherine is working to address modern-day slavery, in children as young as 4 and 5, working in highly-toxic cobalt mines, to earn enough to feed their families that day.”
“In a relatively short period, she has transformed the lives of 3,000 children and countless adults, and literally restored their humanity. She gives them hope,” Opus Prize Foundation director added during the Thursday evening ceremony.
"An authentic Shepherd, a faithful steward, a humble servant of the Lord and a true leader of our time,” Kenyan Sr. Rosemary Karutani who has known Sr. Mutindi for the last 18 years, belonging to the same religious congregation told ACI Africa Friday, November 22.
Nairobi-based Sr. Karutani added, “Congratulations my dear sister Catherine for winning the 2019 Opus Prize. You are our shining star. Our sisters in the whole world celebrate you and Kolwezi Good Shepherd community.”
SLU, the U.S.-based Catholic, Jesuit institution of higher learning engaged students and faculty in identifying the potential winners of the US$1 million prize, a mission that targeted “individuals or organizations that are transforming lives in their communities and are motivated by faith or religion” from across the globe.
Three finalists from Kenya, DRC, and Puerto Rico were identified by the teams comprising representatives from Opus Prize Foundation and SLU ambassadors, with the winner receiving US$1 million and the two finalists US$100,000.
The finalist from Kenya, Ugandan-born Br. Charles Nuwagaba who serves as the Provincial Vicar of the Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga oversees the Brothers’ primary school and vocational education program on the edge of Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi.
From Puerto Rico, Michael Fernandez-Frey who founded Caras con Causa, an NGO that reaches out to economically poor families through education and community organization toward improved livelihood, was among the selected finalists.
Acknowledging the value of engaging the students and faculty in the vetting exercise to identify the winner, SLU president, Fred Pestello said at the prize giving ceremony, “Through their shared experiences, our students, faculty and staff have had the opportunity to see how incredibly impactful being men and women for and with others can be.”
Sr. Mutindi’s Bon Pasteur Kolwezi has been acknowledged as impactful by DRC government and civil society organizations as, according to a report on SLU website, “the only NGO working effectively to address the widespread human rights abuses against children, adolescent girls and women in the Kolwezi ASM communities.”
“Moreover, the approach adopted by Bon Pasteur to mitigate child labor has been identified by the several Congolese national and local government offices as well as the UN, UNICEF, the World Bank, World Vision, and representatives of numerous international mining companies as a best practice initiative,” SLU has reported.
"I'm so grateful. Thank you is not enough, and yet that is the only word I can use,” Sr. Mutindi, the winner of the 16th Opus Prize has been quoted as saying.
She is overseeing the Good Shepherd project whose “vision is an inclusive and democratic Congolese society where the rights of girls, women and children are protected and promoted,” realized through “an extensive child protection program, which includes remedial holistic education, psychosocial support, a referral system for abused persons and human rights education, all of which seek to mitigate the phenomenon of Worst Forms of Child Labor for orphans and vulnerable children.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa