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Catholic Missionary Nun in South Africa “honored, humbled” as Recipient of Italian Award

Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini who received the Order of the Star of Italy for her service among migrants and refugees in Southern Africa. Credit: Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini

The Catholic Missionary Nun who received the Order of the Star of Italy for her service among migrants and refugees in Southern Africa has said the award “is really humbling” and expressed gratitude to her collaborators in the ministry among the poor.  

In an interview with ACI Africa Thursday, March 17, Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini spoke about the value of the award she received on March 10 from the Italian Head of State, President Sergio Mattarella, courtesy of the Italian Ambassador in South Africa.

“The recognition that the Italian government has given me because of the work we do here in South Africa, is really humbling”, Sr. Rissini said, and added, “I feel honored and humbled; this award symbolizes the good that we all want to do for humanity.”

Credit: Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini

Having consulted the council of The Order of the Star of Italy on the proposal of Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the President of the European country, Sergio Mattarella conferred the honor of Distinguished Knight to Sr. Rissini through the Italian Ambassador to South Africa, Dr. Paulo Cuculi. 

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The award the Coordinator of Caritas South Africa, and Migrants and Refugees Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) received March 10 recognized her commitment and efforts towards migrants, refugees, and the poor.  

The award also recognized the Scalabrinian Missionary Sister’s service as the Executive Secretary of the COVID-19 assistance program for all Catholics Dioceses in the three countries of the SACBC, that is, Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa.

In his speech during the March 10 event, Dr. Cuculi said the award is “in acknowledgement of Sr. Maria’s constant commitment as National Coordinator of Caritas South Africa and as Coordinator of Migrants and Refugees Office for South Africa, Botswana and Eswatini – SACBC.”

Credit: Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini

The Italian Ambassador acknowledged with appreciation Sr. Rissini’s efforts toward “migrants, refugees and destitute persons who didn’t have access to government Aid'' during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In her acceptance speech, Sr. Rissini who dual citizenship said she was not aware that she was being considered for the award. 

The Italian-Brazilian Catholic Nun said, “I am extremely honored to be receiving this award of the ‘Knighthood of the Order of the Star of Italy’ from the Italian Government, through the Italian Embassy and Consulate in South Africa.”

Sr. Rissini expressed her gratitude to God for calling her to follow Him and to serve the people of God for the last 37 years in different countries, adding that the mission of the Scalabrinian Missionary Sisters has been enriched by the diversity of people she serves and meets daily.

Credit: Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini

She said that the award she received recognizes the ministry of the Church in her response to and articulation of the message of Pope Francis who has urged pastoral agents to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees through Caritas and pastoral care.

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The Missionary Nun went on to recognize the support she has received from her colleagues and thanked the Archbishop of Johannesburg who previously served as SACBC Liaison Bishop for Migrants and Refugees, Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale, for “being an inspiring leader and for his continuous support and encouragement to respond to the challenges imposed by the modern society.”

“Thanks to the many people who helped me to structure and implement programs for the poor and needy of our communities”, Sr. Rissini said March 10.

Credit: Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini

She also expressed her gratitude to the members of the Italian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CEI) and Caritas Italy for the partnership over the years in reaching out to the people of God in the three countries of SACBC. 

In the March 17 interview with ACI Africa, Sr. Rissini recognized the partnership from officials of the Embassy of Italy in South Africa saying, “They have always accompanied me and supported our work here”.

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“I would like to thank my team, Fr. Patrick Rakeketsi, Sr. Clementine Sekantsi and Johan Villjoen for working with me during the COVID-19 outbreak,” the Johannesburg-based Catholic Nuns said. 

She added, “I share this award with the many people I work with at the SACBC, IMBISA, the Scalabrini Sisters, with everyone. '' 

Sr. Rissini further advocated for solidarity and collaboration “to minimize the suffering of the poor and the needy.”

Credit: Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini

During the March 10 event, two other women were conferred the honor of Distinguished Knight. They included Francesca Cicogna George who previously served at the Italian Embassy, and Lucy Slaviero, the daughter of Domitilla and Daniel Hyams who are the founders of Little Eden in South Africa.

Reacting to the events of March 10 in an interview with ACI Africa, the Secretary General of SACBC, Fr. Hugh O’Connor, said the awards were an illustration that “the work of the Church matters.”

“The work of the church matters; people notice it and we give thanks for the recognition that they have received on behalf of all the faithful; it’s about people doing what they can to help others”, Fr. O’Connor told ACI Africa.

Credit: Sr. Maria de Lurdes Lodi Rissini

On his part, the Italian Ambassador in South Africa said the award to the Catholic Nun recognized her “stunning” qualities.

“It is a great honor to award Sr. Maria this decoration in recognition of her stunning commitment, dedication, and achievements in assisting those who are most vulnerable, those who are in the most difficult situations”, Dr. Cuculi told ACI Africa.

He added, “I'm quite happy that the Italian government recognized the achievements of Sister Maria and awarded her the Order of the Star of Italy.”

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.