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2018 Speakers


Marguerite Barankitse (Maison Shalom—Kigali, Burundi)

Marguerite Barankitse
Founder and President, Maison Shalom
(Kigali, Burundi)

Marguerite (Maggy) Barankitse was born in Ruyigi, in eastern Burundi, one of the poorest regions of the country. She first worked as a teacher at a local secondary school but was fired because of her protests against discrimination in the field of education between Hutus and Tutsis. She then went to work as a secretary for the Catholic bishop in Ruyigi. She had a dream of ethnic harmony, and despite mounting tensions in Burundi, she put that dream into practice by adopting seven children: four Hutus and three Tutsis. 

Violence escalated between Hutus and Tutsis, and following the assassination of Burundi's first democratically elected president, a group of armed Tutsis descended on Ruyigi on October 23, 1993. They were there to kill the Hutu families hiding in the bishop’s estate. Maggy managed to hide many of the children, but she was caught by the gunmen. They beat and humiliated her, forcing her to watch as they killed 72 Hutus. But she refused to divulge where the children were hidden. Ultimately, she was only spared because she was a Tutsi.

After this terrible ordeal, she gathered her adopted children and the surviving orphans and hid them in a nearby school in Ruyigi. As more and more children sought shelter with her, she decided to create a small NGO: Maison Shalom, the "house of peace." Maggy’s house was, and is, open to children of all ethnic origins: Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa. She calls them “my Hutsitwa children,” and they call her “Oma,” or grandmother.

In the following years, Maison Shalom was one of the few places in Burundi where Hutus and Tutsis lived together. Since the terrible events of 1993, over 10,000 children and youth have benefitted from Maison Shalom. Before the current crisis in Burundi, Maison Shalom employed more than 270 people, including nurses, psychologists, and educators who implement special  projects for the children.

Maggy set up small income-generating initiatives run by the youth themselves, such as a guesthouse, a cinema, a car workshop, etc. When they become independent, the young people receive a small house and a plot of land. By 2015, over 300 houses for children and youth between the ages of 4 and 20 had been built. Maison Shalom also helps internally displaced persons and returning Burundian refugees to reintegrate in Ruyigi and to trace their missing relatives. And Maggy is on the frontlines in the battle against AIDS, setting up counseling projects to promote AIDS prevention. She and her staff care for over 100 HIV-infected children who have been abandoned or orphaned.

She also started an initiative to help youth who were in prison. Some children were born in prison, and she worked to find them a better life—through education especially and a home outside the prison. Her team also promotes agriculture and established microfinancing to enable the mothers and fathers to develop small businesses.

However, in April 2015, when Maggy spoke out against the third presidential term of Pierre Nkurunziza, she was obliged to hide for a month in an embassy in Bujumbura. Ultimately, she had to flee, because the government had her name on a list to be eliminated. Having joined the youth demonstrations denouncing President Nkurunziza, Maggy found herself a refugee. But her refugee status did not stop her devotion to alleviate suffering. 

She has now opened a branch of Maison Shalom in Rwanda where she sought refuge. There, her focus is to obtain education for children and those secondary and university students who are in refugee camps. Maggy has received many accolades for her indefatigable work for children. Among her many honors are the World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child, the North-South Prize, the Four Freedoms Award, and in 2016, she was the inaugural recipient of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity.

Melinda Roper, MM (Maryknoll Sisters Congregation—Darién, Panama)

Melinda Roper, MM
Past President, Maryknoll Sisters Congregation
Missionary & Co-Director, Pastoral Center of Santa Fe
(Darién, Panama)

Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Sr. Melinda Roper attended Michigan State University and then entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation in Maryknoll, New York. She served in various roles with the Maryknoll Sisters, beginning with Sisters’ Novitiate at Topsfield, Massachusetts, from 1960-63. She then taught at Colegio Monte Maria in Guatemala from 1963-65.

The following year, Sr. Melinda joined the Pastoral Center in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, where she was involved in catechetical work. She spent a year in Chiapas, Mexico, studying the dialect of the indigenous peoples. In 1971, she earned her BA in theology from Loyola University Chicago. Returning to Guatemala, she served as a staff member in the Centro Apostólico in Huehuetenago.

After 14 years of serving in Central America, Sr. Melinda was elected president of the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation, an office she held from 1978 to 1984. Just two years into her role as president, on December 2, 1980, four U.S. churchwomen (among them, two Maryknoll sisters) were murdered in El Salvador. As National Catholic Reporter's Global Sisters Report describes in June 2017 article, "[u]nder her leadership, the Maryknoll sisters fought for justice, for the churchwomen and for those they represented. At a time when Americans were mostly unaware of the U.S. role in training and financing right-wing death squads terrorizing much of Central America, the Maryknolls awakened the faith community in particular and the country in general. The churchwomen became a symbol for a system that was repressing and killing tens of thousands of innocents, many simply for the profession of their faith. Their deaths helped inspire Central American solidarity groups throughout the U.S. and a sanctuary movement that gave shelter to refugees fleeing the violence."

During her years as president, Sr. Melinda received various honorary degrees, including the Doctor of Humane Letters from Loyola University Chicago, Emmanuel College, Fordham University, Catholic University of America, Regis College, New School of Research, and Albertus Magnus College.

In 1985, Sr. Melinda was assigned to the Vicariate of Darién, Panama, where she remains in ministry today, 32 years later. In this tropical jungle region, she is engaged there with a team of Maryknoll Sisters who live and work with indigenous, Afro-Darienitas and mestizo settlers. For many years, the Sisters traveled to 38 different communities instructing Delegates of the Word, catechists, teachers, and young mothers. Their main objective was the formation of Ecclesial Basic Communities, small groups that pray and work for a more just and compassionate world. Through the years the Sisters’ ministries have evolved to be more ecological given their recognition of the importance of the tropical rainforest to the survival and well-being of our planet. Much of their ministry happens in Darién's Pastoral Center of Santa Fe, whose purpose is for the human community to learn to live in harmony with the whole community of life.


Maricarmen Bracamontes, OSB (St. Scholastica's Center for the Development of Women—Torreón, Mexico)

Maricarmen Bracamontes, OSB

Superior, Bread of Life Monastery
Founding member and instructor, St. Scholastica's Center for the Development of Women
(Torreón, Mexico)

A Benedictine nun, Maricarmen Bracamontes is the superior at Bread of Life Monastery (Monasterio Pan de Vida) in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico. She is also a founding member and instructor at the monastery's St. Scholastica's Center for the Development of Women (Centro de Desarrollo Integral de las Mujeres, Santa Escolástica). She completed her licentiate in theology at the Jesuit seminary at Ibero-American University (Universidad Iberoamericana, or IBERO) in Mexico City, and went on to participate in the DMin program at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago.

Maricarmen serves in an advisory capacity on initial and ongoing formation for religious communities in Mexico and other countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States, and Europe. Her areas of interest are Biblical spirituality, the theology of consecrated life, human development, and affectivity and sexuality in the celibate person. She studies all of the above with a holistic, interdisciplinary perspective in the context of the culture of innovation and the building of knowledge societies.

Since 2006, Maricarmen has formed part of the Theological Team for CLAR, the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious, and was the Team's coordinator from 2009-12. She has worked closely with the CLAR Commission for Religious life inserted among the poor and the Biblical Spirituality Commission.