Catholic Missionary Gets Award from Sudan's Islamic Government

Sister Callista Has Spent Over 50 Years in Maternity Care

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KHARTOUM, Sudan, NOV. 8, 2002 ( A Comboni missionary nun has received an awarded from one of the most fundamentalist Islamist regimes in Africa.

The high recognition of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Beshir has been given to Sister Callista Cozzi, 81, who in 1946 decided to dedicate her life to Sudan, the Misna missionary agency reported.

At the end of October, the Sudanese authorities conferred a honorary doctorate on Sister Callista for her tireless obstetrical work in the maternity section of Omdurman, a town near Khartoum, the capital.

Sister Callista herself founded the 200-bed hospital, one of the major health centers in Sudan.

«This recognition honors me, yet not only me but all the Comboni community to which I belong,» she said.

It is not the first time that al-Beshir’s Muslim government recognized the merits of this woman religious. Last January, the head of state conferred on Sister Callista «in the name of the merciful Allah,» Sudan’s most important honor, the Order of Merit of the first degree.

That award was in recompense «for the excellency of her work in the long and tireless service to mothers and children.» In 1995, the National Health Department also honored her work.

Sister Callista does not know how many children she has helped to bring into the world. «I have never counted them. An average of 40 to 45 children are born every day in our hospital,» she said. «Suffice it to make a calculation.»

Sister Callista made her vows in the Congregation of Comboni Sisters on April 26, 1945. Shortly before, her eldest sister, also a Comboni missionary in Africa, died of malaria.

Sister Callista left the following year for Sudan, and was assigned to the village of Abbara, 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the capital. In 1954 she was called to work in Khartoum, where she started a course in obstetrics a year later. She began immediately to build a maternity hospital on the outskirts of Omdurman.

The sister will bid Sudan a final farewell in December, when she returns to Italy to continue her missionary work near Como.

Sister Callista’s award is in sharp contrast to Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, which reported today that two Coptic Christian women students were recently abducted in northern Sudan and are thought to have been forcibly converted to Islam. They are reportedly being held against their will in conditions of slavery and forced marriage.

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