Imagine getting blessed by Pope Francis for the healthcare work you do. It happened last Saturday to two of our colleagues, Dr. Christina de Vries, sexual and reproductive health expert, and Dr. Francis Mandazou, who works for Cordaid in the conflict-ridden western part of the Central African Republic. “Meeting the pontiff inspires me to continue, even when the going gets tough,” says Dr. Mandazou.
Saturday May 7th thousands of medical aid workers, students, volunteers and philanthropists gathered to meet the pope. They were invited by Doctors with Africa CUAMM, the Italian branch of Medicus Mundi International, of which Cordaid is also a member. Dr Francis Mandazou and Dr. Christina de Vries were two of the 20 special international guests.
Pope Francis reminded us that standing with the poor, the work of caritas, is at the heart of what the Bible says.
Dr. Christina de Vries, health expert Cordaid
Extravaganza and purity
Dr. de Vries: “In this extravagant setting of the Vatican, Pope Francis delivered a message of deep spirituality and purity. As aid workers we are always focused on results and showing results. Pope Francis reminded us that standing with the most vulnerable is all about showing love and kindness and dignity, which is not something we communicate about easily. And he reminded us that standing with the poor, the work of caritas, is at the heart of what the Bible says.”
Francis Mandazou and Christina de Vries in the Vatican
Serving others in tough conditions
Christina, who knows the extreme working conditions of dr. Francis Mandazou in the east of the Central African Republic, invited him to take part in the papal meeting. “I met Dr. Mandazou in Bouar, in the west of Central Africa. I know the tough conditions he lives and works in – he and his family. And I admire the way he gives his life to serve others. That’s why I wished him to be part of this meeting – and be blessed by Pope Francis, just like the other attendants.”
Being a doctor in a fragile country with little means, hardly any infrastructure and a lot of insecurity, can be a tough job.
Dr. Francis Mandazou, Cordaid-colleague in the Central African Republic
Dr. Mandazou, who works as a public health expert for Cordaid and helps to strengthen small medical outposts in hard to reach rural areas, visited the Vatican for the first time. “I dreamed about this ever since childhood. It was deeply moving to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican. You see, being a doctor in a fragile country like mine, with little means, hardly any infrastructure and a lot of insecurity, can be a tough job. Seeing and feeling that the pope stands beside you in this mission to serve the poorest, is very rewarding.”
Last August the pope visited the Central African Republic. Dr. Mandazou: “He brought a message of peace to our country, which accelerated the process of disarmament and the presidential elections. This time I met him in his home town. It was just great.”
A companion in our struggle
Dr. De Vries finds a companion in the present pope as well. “I deal a lot with issues like sexual abuse, sexual and reproductive health and sexual rights (SRHR) in countries where these things are still taboo, especially in religious circles. Pope Francis is a leader who helps us, aid workers in this field of SRHR, to overcome this struggle between morality and church teachings on the one hand and the realities of oppressed and abused young people on the other. Instead of focusing on doctrines, he tells us, we should assist and support people on their journey through life, whatever the choices they make, sexual and otherwise.”
Taking Rome home
Tomorrow, Dr. Francis will return to Bouar, in the Central African Republic. “I will take home this meeting with Pope Francis, more than ever convinced that life is about standing in solidarity with fellow human beings who are in need.”
Read more about what Cordaid does in the Central African Republic.