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Pope Francis Blessed Muslim Torture Victim

Posted on September 28, 2015 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

During Pope Francis’ fast, five day trip to the U.S., his visits, actions and words highlighted his priorities: to serve the homeless, the hungry, the struggling immigrant.  At Catholic Charities we were honored last Friday to introduce Pope Francis to some of these people we serve.  Each has shown courage in the face of challenges.  And each has his own unique story to share.  Below is one of them: 

Bakary Mbye, 50, a former medical worker who saved the lives of thousands in his native Gambia, paged through recent diplomas -- home health aide, phlebotomy, certified nurse assistant -- the best he can get since he fled his country for safety in the U.S. It was not until he reached the bottom of the pile that he began to smile.  Straight A’s on his nine children’s report cards.  Mr. Mbye postponed opportunities to rebuild his professional life in the U.S. to instead concentrate on building his children’s future.

“I am one and they are many,” says Mr. Mbye, a torture victim and political asylee whose homeland is considered one of the most brutal African nations.  “If I concentrate on studies and paperwork to begin my career again they would be left behind.”

As for Mr. Mbye, he says he never wanted to be a hero.  He just wanted to help.  He served as a humanitarian medical worker for organizations aimed at eradicating HIV and other deadly diseases.  But Yahya Jammeh, the dictatorial president of Gambia infamous for his bizarre behavior and threats to kill any homosexuals in his country, tried to improve his popularity by saying a dream revealed to him a concoction of herbs that would cure AIDS.  People began to rely on this mixture instead of the medical steps advocated by organizations Mr. Mbye represented.  And people began to die.

Mr. Mbye said he felt he had no choice but to publicly denounce the president’s chicanery. The government, in response, jailed and tortured him.  Finally, in April 2011, Mr. Mbye escaped.

Catholic Charities successfully represented him with his application for asylum status in the United States.  We also helped him get refugee resettlement assistance.  This included funds, tutoring and job placement.  With this help Mr. Mbye landed three jobs, working and saving to bring his family to safety one by one.   Catholic Charities, in turn, helped him reunify his family. 

“I have no words for the greatness and sense of appreciation I have,” he says.

He shakes his head, thinking about all he traded and the strange turns his life has taken.  And then he smiles as he speaks about his recent surprise.  He, a Muslim who has lost nearly all he has, met the head of the Catholic Church when Pope Francis blessed him and 150 fellow immigrants served by Catholic Charities during his visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem on September 25.

“The Pope is doing all possible to bring peace and justice to the world and help needy people,” Mr. Mbye says.  “And that is a great thing.”