Refugee Olympic athlete Rose Lokonyen to speak at gathering with Pope Francis

(Photo: LWF / Marie Renaux)Rose Nathike Lokonyen in the chapel of the Ecumenical Center in Geneva on Sept. 29, 2016, where the Luteran World Federation is based.

Olympic athlete and refugee Rose Nathike Lokonyen who escaped conflict in her homeland will be a speaker at the Joint Lutheran-Catholic Commemoration in Sweden on 31 October.

On that day, Pope Francis, Lutheran Federation President Bishop Munib A. Younan and the federation's general secretary Rev. Martin Junge will lead the Joint Ecumenical Commemoration in Lund Cathedral and Malmö Arena.

At Malmö arena, four people will offer testimonies in the lead up to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Refromation in 2017, Lutheran World Federation reports.

One of them is Lokonyen, a 23-year-old refugee from South Sudan.

Rose and her family fled to the Kakuma refugee camp, where some 182,000 people live in northwest Kenya, when she was eight. The LWF works there with the United Nations and other organizations.

Since the age of 14, she has been the head of household for five younger siblings.

She managed to take care of her siblings and finish her education in a school run by the LWF.

Lokonyen became an incentive worker for the LWF, motivating girls to go back to schools and raising awareness on early marriage, HIV and rape, issues that confront many refugee girls.

In her little spare time Lokonyen had, she played soccer where her skill as a goalkeeper in the camp was noticed and sought after.

She was asked to play for the local team in the frequent matches between the "Kakuma football league" players and the surrounding host villages.

Last year, her team went to Nairobi and beat a Kenyan team 4:1. "I just held all the penalties," she smiles in her interview.

This year, Lokonyen became famous as one of five South Sudanese runners on the refugee team in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

She carried the Olympic flag when the team entered the Maracana stadium in Rio to applause and standing ovations.

A great moment, she says, and an opportunity to give a face to the 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

"We are people like everyone else. We can do anything, and I want to show what we are capable of," she says.

On Sept. 29, Lokonyen visited the LWF headquarters in Geneva and met staff members.

"Rose is a testimony to the strength and resilience of the people we work with," says Maria Immonen, the director of LWF's World Service.

"Her example shows how important it is to not only provide food and shelter, but also cultural activities, sports and education to displaced people," Immonen noted.

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