AIDS Victim, Who Wept in Pope´s Arms, Dies

Anna Eneonoja Pleaded for Others Enslaved in Prostitution

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RIMINI, Italy, MAR. 22, 2001 ( Anna Eneonoja, the AIDS victim from Nigeria who fell on her knees and was embraced by the Pope last May 24 during a Jubilee event, has died. She was 30.

Father Oreste Benzi, founder of the John XXIII Association, disclosed the news about Anna, whom he had rescued from prostitution on Italian streets.

Anna, whose tearful encounter with the Pope was captured by television cameras, died in the Cutugno Hospital in Naples. She had previously been in a shelter home of Father Benzi´s association, in the Campagna region.

Recalling the Jubilee of the marginalized, held last May, Father Benzi spoke about what Anna said to John Paul II: “Father, free the girls who are on the streets like I was. … I got sick on the street. … Father, life on the street is disgusting, ugly, hard. Father, there are a lot of young women on the street but also little girls. … Father, free the little girls of the street. … Holy Father, we are slaves seeking liberty.”

Father Benzi said: “Visibly moved, the Pope patted her head as he would a daughter and she kissed his hands. He then blessed us.”

“On that occasion, I told the Pope that Anna represented all the women who have left prostitution, placing their own life in danger, and so many young women and girls who are still slaves of sexual exploitation, in the hands of unscrupulous criminals,” Father Benzi added.

The story of Anna — the media had only known her by the pseudonym Miriam — began eight years ago when she left Nigeria. She had two small daughters and was one of 51 siblings. Her father had nine wives. She was deceived into going to Italy, like so many other young Nigerian women, with the promise of an honest job.

When she arrived in Europe, she was directed into one of the many “slave routes.” She ended up in a hospital in Rome with AIDS. A social worker gave her Father Benzi´s telephone number.

“Anna called me directly, one month before the papal audience, and she was welcomed immediately into our community, in a shelter home in Salerno,” the priest explained. “I spoke many times with her. She would cry over her daughters, who remained in Nigeria, over the humiliations she suffered on the street, the illness she contracted, and her sin against the Christian faith. From her tomb, that weeping becomes today more than ever a severe denunciation against those who allow that 50,000 girls in our country can still be in the hands of prostitution bands.”

Over the past decade, Father Benzi and his association have gotten 2,000 prostitutes off the street, of whom 200 are today in shelter homes. Among the 500,000 prostitutes in European Union countries, 50,000 are Nigerians.

Last month, Father Benzi became the “ambassador of the slaves of prostitution,” and spoke in the Nigerian capital, at the first Pan-African conference on the subject. In cooperation with the Nigerian government, the Italian Embassy, and local Churches, this priest from Rimini is organizing a meeting in Abuja, the capital, “to coordinate concrete action to liberate 50,000 Nigerian women who, like Anna, run the risk of dying of AIDS and, especially, of living in Europe in a situation of slavery.”

Anna Eneonoja´s funeral was set to take place today in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Rome.

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