Gynecologist-Lay Missionary Is Named "Woman of Year"

Chiara Castellani Is a Doctor in the Congo

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ROME, DEC. 10, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Italy has named gynecologist Chiara Castellani, lay missionary in a hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, "Woman of the Year 2001."



The award, promoted by the Regional Council of Val d´Aosta, under the patronage of the president of Italy and of the European Parliament, was announced recently in St. Vincent.

The winner was chosen from among 22 candidates, in regard to the topic: "Commitment Against Any Form of Slavery."

The international jury, presided over by Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, awarded the honor to Castellani in recognition of "her medical commitment in the frontiers of the world, which has led her to work in the midst of adversities, against an aberrant system that degrades woman."

"I decided to be a doctor when I was 7 years old to help the poor," Castellani, 45, told ZENIT.

She received her degree from the Catholic University of Rome, and went to Nicaragua at 27, where she stayed for seven years. She returned in 1989 to work in the United Nations, but quit her post because she believed her place was to be "with simple people."

In the Congo, she met with personal suffering, when she lost her right arm in a car accident. The experience gave her renewed strength. She learned to write with her left hand, to use an artificial arm, and to be helped by nurses in her gynecological work.

Castellani now works for the Italian Association Friends of Raoul Follereau in Kimbau, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In a country has been devastated by war, she toils in a hospital that lacks water, and where premature babies are wrapped in blankets as there are no incubators. Deaths from malaria and diarrhea are common.

Castellani is the sole doctor in Kimbau, and is responsible for basic health services in an area larger than Belgium. As a lay missionary, she contributes to the task of evangelization in the Diocese of Kenge.

The war that devastates the Congo has only "economic motives," she said. "The people do not want war."

"Where there is war, there is no budget for health," she said. Whoever is poor "is systematically injured in his right to health," she added.