Last March, Sister Conchita Lopez, a Comboni Sister, received from the Spanish Government, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the cross of the Royal Order of Isabel la Católica for her commitment on behalf of poor people around the world.
Sr. Conchita Lopez was born in Toledo, (Spain) 75 years ago. Sudan is her mission land, which she only left to care for her elderly mother for a few years. She felt a very strong missionary call at the age of 12 and it followed her faithfully despite stiff opposition from her family. “I had to flee from home to start my formation with the Comboni Missionaries and only little by little, and after much suffering, my family ended up accepting my vocation, and was even happy about it.”
“I arrived in Sudan on December 3, 1975. The first years were lived in Omdurman and Atbara, studying Arabic and assimilating the cultural values of the country. Later, the roads of the mission would take me to present-day southern Sudan. I spent six years in Juba and then a long period in Malakal and it was always the same: war, war and more war. The bombs were falling everywhere, but at the same time God’s grace was so strong that it renewed us and gave us strength to continue with the people.”
Sr. Conchita continues: “At that time, all humanitarian organizations had left and people looked at us and asked us: `Are you going too?’ I do not know where we got the strength to say: No, the good shepherd does not abandon his sheep so we will stay.” The superiors in Rome asked the sisters to leave the mission, and the United States embassy offered them a flight to leave Malakal, but they did not leave.
“We chose ourselves. We did not pray about it and the superior said: You see what they tell us from Rome,’ and there was a silence. Suddenly a sister said: ‘I’m staying’; then another: ‘I want to stay as well,’ and so the six of us stayed there. We felt that it was not the time to abandon those people who needed us and we really created a wonderful fraternity with the people. It was a joy for them to see us there and with their enormous faith they encouraged us: ‘Don’t worry sister, God is with us.’ We came to evangelize and we were evangelized.”
In 1996, Conchita returned to Spain to care for her mother. She returned to Sudan in 2004, where she spent four years in Khartoum until, in 2008, she was assigned to her current community in El Obeid. “I have always lived the mission with the joy of being among the poorest … I have been accompanying two communities in Rahad and Umruwaba, near El Obeid, for 12 years with people living in tremendous misery. Most of them are Nubas, but there are also other small groups from different communities. I go there and visit families, including the Muslim ones. I talk with some of them and try to help others in whatever way I can. I try to make sure the children go to school and receive an education. That is my mission.”
Sr. Conchita remembers the names of various people she has encountered. One of them is Riad, whom she baptised as he was in danger of death. He died a few hours later. “It was something very emotional. There were all those people praying on their knees next to Riad, in a small and very poor house, where they had only one dirty old mattress but a lot of faith. This is our presence.”