Journalists of the Mediterranean Festival award Congolese nun for saving lives.
Stanislas Kambashi, SJ - Vatican City.
‘Mare Nostrum’ is an ancient Latin term common among the Romans, meaning ‘Our Sea’ referring to the Mediterranean Sea.
The lives of over 47 000 migrants saved
The “Caravella” prize was awarded to Congolese religious Sr Angel Bipendu for her commitment to rescue migrant operations in Lampedusa, Italy. Through her contribution as a medical doctor, Sr Bipendu, described by Italian media as a nun on the frontline, saved the lives of over 47 000 migrants, most arriving on boats from Africa.
From 6 to 9 September, the Festival of Mediterranean Journalists in Otranto, now in its XVth year, brought together prominent actors in the world of information, academia, institutions and diplomacy to discuss issues relating to the Mare Nostrum basin at Largo Porta Alfonsina in Lecce’s famous tourist centre. Held at the end of every summer on the Italian shores of the Adriatic Sea, this cultural event has since 2009 become a point of reference for reflection on Italian and international current affairs and the challenges facing communications and media practitioners.
Sister Bipendu awarded the “Caravella” prize
One of the thorniest issues concerning the Mediterranean Sea is that of migrants. Many desperate migrants try to reach Europe by sea-unworthy boats that often perish in the Mediterranean. Pope Francis has described the Mediterranean Sea as one of the biggest cemeteries of our time. The efforts of governments and institutions are joined by those with a sense of humanity, who take part in rescue operations and provide emergency care to migrants.
Such is the case of Sister Angel Bipendu, who, from 2016 to 2019, worked in Lampedusa, the Italian island renowned for receiving migrants - most of whom come Africa. For more than two years, Sr Bipendu, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, took part as a medical doctor in rescue missions that saved the lives of 47 282 migrants.
After being announced as the recipient, Sr Bipendu spoke to Radio - Vaticana - Vatican News and said of those saved, many more died. On Saturday, her efforts were recognised with one of the festival’s awards, the “Caravella” award.
Serving the sick during Covid-19
A member of the religious Congregation of the Disciples of the Redeemer, Sr Bipendu, currently works in Bergamo. The Italian city northeast of Milan was Italy’s first epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, Sr Bipendu also found herself at the centre of the Covod-19 crisis that devastated Bergamo and the rest of Italy. Through her courageous work, Sr Bipendu brought help to people afflicted by the disease at a time when the world didn’t know how to deal with Covid-19.
The Congolese nun was invited by the organisers of the Festival of Mediterranean Journalists in Otranto to share all her experiences. Sharing the same with Radio Vaticana - Vatican News, she confided that she was often taken taken on board boats of the Guardia Costiera - the Italian coastguard - where she worked for two years on operations to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.
“It was an experience, personally, that made me grow and gave me the courage to go beyond my own fears,” she confided.
Expeditions on the Sea, in search of migrants
Sr Bipendu recounted how she first worked in Lampedusa, giving of herself for the good of others. She also worked there as a doctor, whose first task on the rescue boats was to sort out who was sick and who wasn’t and to isolate and treat those suffering from contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.
Her second mission on the lifeboats, which she considers the most critical, was to tend to the psychological needs of migrants who reached Lampedusa in states of trauma. Along with others involved in these operations, she boarded boats that sailed the Mediterranean from the island to other ports in southern Italy, such as Catania, Palermo, Naples and Calabria and brought back all those they managed to save.
Migration: Conflicts and extreme poverty
Today, the Congolese nun estimates that 70% of the migrants who have benefited from her direct assistance have successfully integrated into European society. The other 30%, with whom she has kept in touch, are still seeking a better life. Most of these people have not stayed in Italy, which they “used as a gateway,” but have settled in other European countries such as Belgium and France.
As for the reasons for their perilous journeys, 60% of these migrants said they had fled terrorism, such as that of Boko Haram in Nigeria, or other armed conflicts in Mali or Somalia. Others such as those from Ghana and other countries said they were seeking better living conditions.
Improved living conditions halts forced migration
To prevent their nationals from continuing to risk their lives in forced migration, Sr Bipendu calls on African countries to improve their policies in favour of people experiencing danger and poverty. “Life is sacred ... and when a country’s policies don’t work, these are the consequences we live with,” said the religious woman. For her, if citizens’ lives are in danger or in the face of extreme poverty, many find themselves constrained to leave rather than die or be killed.
According to Sr Bipendu, most migrants who received her assistance were young people in the 18 - 27 age bracket.