Torture Victim To Meet Pope Francis

Posted on September 4, 2015 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Four a.m. and Mamadou Drame, uniformed in his “AM New York” red vest with dark sunglasses covering his unseeing eyes, stands on his corner, 53rd and Lex. on Manhattan’s east side handing free newspapers to jostling pedestrians.  This is a big fall for a man once heard on radios throughout his native land of Guinea as an unflinching advocate for the disabled and women’s rights. But at least he is alive, he says, his family is safe, and, thanks to Catholic Charities’ intervention, they are starting to rebuild.

The irony that, he, a displaced Muslim, was chosen to give a booklet written by fellow visually impaired persons served by Catholic Charities to the head of the Catholic Church is not lost on him. He is one of about 150 immigrants served and invited by Catholic Charities to meet Pope Francis when he visits Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem on September 25th. 

“I am in seventh heaven,” he says, removing his glasses and revealing eyes with pupils that do not move.  “Many people think of Muslims as terrorists but our true religion is about peace.  I want to tell that to the pope.”

Yet Mr. Drame knew little peace in the West African nation where he was born. In this country infamous for massacres and corruption, Mr. Drame spoke out for the least protected, those with disabilities and women.  He worked for the International Foundation of Electoral Systems that supports fair elections. He was a treasurer for the Guinean Union for the Visually Impaired. And he hosted radio programs and conferences advocating for the disabled and for women, including the fight against female genital mutilation.

His outspokenness led to torture and jail.  Ultimately, it led to an anonymous letter slipped under his apartment door retrieved by his wife while he attended a United Nations conference in New York.  The letter said if he returned to Guinea he would be killed. 

His wife phoned Mr. Drame right away to warn him. Not knowing where to turn, he went with a guide to a mosque in Brooklyn to pray.  The guide abandoned him there.

Fortunately, a stranger led Mr. Drame to Catholic Charities.  Here he received help applying for asylee legal status.  He also received counseling, English classes, food, clothes, help finding work and, most important, help bringing his family to safety.

“Catholic Charities helped me with everything,” he said.  “And now I’m going to meet the pope.  His message is my message.  Respect for the handicapped.  Respect for immigrants.  And that whether we are Muslim or Christian, we are together with God.”