In an environment shaped by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sister Alicia Vacas Moro, a Spanish missionary, has assisted traumatised refugees and asylum seekers.

Comboni Sr. Alicia Vacas Moro, a Spanish missionary whose ministry has focused on humanitarian needs in the Middle East, is one of 14 women receiving this year’s International Women of Courage award, an annual honour by the U.S. Department of State. 

Sr. Vacas, 49, a registered nurse and regional coordinator for the Comboni Missionary Sisters in the Middle East, was honoured for work that includes establishing a medical clinic in Egypt for low-income patients and a ministry working with an impoverished Bedouin community on the Israeli-occupied West Bank.  

She and the other award recipients were honoured on International Women’s Day, in a virtual ceremony live-streamed from the State Department in Washington, D.C., and attended by first lady Dr. Jill Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.  

The public citation for Sr. Vacas noted that she established a training program for Bedouin women that opened up new economic opportunities for them and also established kindergarten programs in Bedouin camps that provided “an educational foundation for children.” 

“In an environment shaped by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sister Alicia also assisted traumatised refugees and asylum seekers, a job she continues to perform on a larger scale in her current role as the regional coordinator for the Comboni Sisters in the Middle East.” 

The citation also noted that when the global coronavirus pandemic struck northern Italy in early 2020, Sr. Vacas  “flew to Italy to assist and treat fellow sister nuns, undeterred by extreme danger to herself.  

In an interview prior to the award ceremony, Sr. Vacas said the award “is somewhat of a surprise because there are so many women out there doing wonderful things.  

“She said, for example, Comboni sisters in South Sudan might be more deserving of the honour because of their challenging work in assisting displaced persons in that country’s ongoing civil war.  

She said she views the award as a collective honor for her and the five other Comboni sisters working in the West Bank, as they try to honor Gospel values in an environment she described as uncommonly difficult.”  

Sr. Vacas worked in Egypt between 1999 and 2007, and has worked in Israel/Palestine since 2008, except for a two-year stint from 2015 to 2017 in Verona, Italy, when she coordinated an infirmary for older sisters.

Sr. Vacas was elected regional Mideast coordinator in 2017. The Comboni community is based in a convent in the West Bank community of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, but is surrounded on three sides by an Israeli-built separation wall, a barrier constructed in 2004 in the wake of Palestinian uprisings.” 

“It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but it’s a place we’ve come to believe where we need to be,” said Sr.  Vacas.