The president of the Republic, President of The Order of the Star of Italy, having heard the council of the order on the proposal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has conferred the honour of Distinguished Knight to Sr. Maria De Lourdes Lodi Rissini. Those are the words inscribed on the certificate of recognition received by Sr. Maria for the award of The Order of the Star of Italy she received on the 10 March 2022.
The Italian Ambassador to South Africa, his Excellency Dr. Paulo Cuculi, in his recognition speech 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 on the SACBC.” This recognition happens as tension continue to rise between some locals and foreigners in South Africa, specifically recently in Alexandra.
Dr. Cuculi further said it is in acknowledgement also of her efforts and activities as Scalabrinian Missionary Sisters who are devoted to social integration by offering training to the poorest and most persecuted segments of society; providing education; managing assistance centres and shelters; offering volunteer programs.
The Ambassador noted that at the Outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic Sr Maria was appointed Executive Secretary of the Covid-19 assistance programme for all dioceses of South Africa, Botswana and Eswatini, “standing out once again for her activities and efforts towards migrants, refugees and destitute persons who didn’t have access to government Aid.”
In receiving the award Sr. Maria said she was not aware that she was being considered for the award. She admitted that she is, “extremely honoured 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”.
Acknowledging her gratitude to God for calling her to follow Him and to serve his chosen people for 37 years in different countries she said the mission of the Scalabrinian Missionary Sisters has been enriched by the diversity of people she serves and meets daily. She noted that the work the Church is doing is part of the Church’s response in articulating the message of Pope’s Francis regarding migrants and refugees of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating them through Caritas and pastoral care.
Sr. Maria added that she is grateful to many people who are working with her as they share in this award even though she is unable to mention them all, mentioning only a few, the Scalabrinian community, Beinvenu Shelter, the Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg. A special mention was made of Archbishop Buti 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”, said Sr. Maria thanking those who helped her after the SACBC entrusted her with the coordination of Caritas South Africa and Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees. In her gratitude she did not forget the Italian Bishops’ Conference and Caritas Italy for their continuous support to the South African communities. Present to witness the award-giving ceremony on behalf of the SACBC was Fr. Hugh O’Connor, the Secretary General of the same conference.
Earlier on the award had been conferred to Lucy Slaviero, the former CEO of Little Eden in Edenvale. In his speech on her award, His Excellency Paolo Cuculi acknowledged Slaviero’s immense contribution of over 30 years as the CEO of Little Eden Society, “Lucy Slaviero was instrumental in creating a growing network of volunteers and supporters of the Little Eden, thus making it possible to increase and optimize the possibilities of care and assistance offered by its structures over time.” The Ambassador noted the beatification process currently in progress of Domitilla and Daniel Hyams, Lucy’s parents. With that he also acknowledged that Lucy’s activities have often been recognized at a national level and Little Eden has received the praise and thanks of the South African Authorities.
The third recipient of the award on the day was Francesca Cicogna George for the extraordinary work she did at the Italian embassy in South Africa for the all the years she worked there.