VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis presented the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross to an elderly Italian missionary sister who dedicated her life to caring for mothers as a midwife in Congo, delivering more than 3,000 babies.

Presenting the honor to 85-year-old Daughter of St. Joseph Sister Maria Concetta Esu, the pope said it was a sign of the church’s “affection and gratitude for all the work you have done in the midst of our African brothers and sisters, in the service of life, of children, of mothers, of families.”

“With this gesture dedicated to you, I would like to express my gratitude also to all the missionaries, priests, religious and laity, who sow the seeds of the kingdom of God in every part of the world,” he said March 27 during his weekly general audience.

“Your work is great,” the pope added. “You burn up your life by sowing the word of God with your witness. And in this world, you do not make news.”

Taking advantage of Sister Esu’s presence in Rome “for a meeting with her sisters,” the pope said he wanted to express his gratitude and “say a big thank you for her testimony.”

“Dear brothers and sisters,” the pope said to thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, “Sister Maria Concetta will return to Africa after her commitments here. Let us accompany her with prayer. And may her example help us all to live the Gospel wherever we are.”

The elderly missionary stood next to the pope and was visibly moved by his gesture. Upon receiving the medal, she kissed it and thanked the pope. After greeting several of her fellow sisters, the pope placed his hand on her head to bless her.

Pope Francis first met Sister Esu during his visit to the Central African Republic in 2015. Read more…

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