"I forgive" whispers dying Italian nun

Sister Leonella, the Italian nun who was shot to death outside a Somali hospital this week in an attack speculated to have been a reaction to Pope Benedict's controversial remarks on Islam forgave her attackers with her dying breaths, witnesses say.

"I forgive, I forgive," she whispered in her native Italian just before she died Sunday in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, Rev Maloba Wesonga said at her memorial mass in Nairobi yesterday, according to an Associated Press report.

Born Rosa Sgorbati, Sr Leonella, 65, who had lived and worked in Kenya and Somalia for 38 years used to joke there was a bullet with her name engraved on it in Somalia.

Sr Leonella's slaying, outside the hospital where she worked, raised concerns she and other foreigners killed in Somalia recently are victims of growing Islamic radicalism in the Horn of Africa country, where a hardline Muslim militia has been expanding its reach.

The shooting was not a random attack and could have been sparked by Muslim anger over recent remarks about Islam by Pope Benedict, said Willy Huber, regional head of the Austrian-financed hospital where the nun worked.

Connection to Pope's remarks denied

Several Somalis who witnessed Sunday's attack by two gunmen also speculated the killing was related to the Pope. But Abdurahman Mohamed Farah, deputy leader of the Islamic militia, disputed that, blaming it instead on Somali warlords.

Sr Leonella's three Italian Missionaries of the Consolation colleagues, who were evacuated from the Islamist-held Somali capital Mogadishu to Kenya after the weekend murder, want to return to Somalia as soon as possible.

The trio flew into Nairobi with the body of their dead sister after resisting earlier advice to leave Mogadishu, where they worked at a charity hospital, Italy's envoy to the interim Somali government said.

The killing came less than two days after a hardline Mogadishu cleric urged Muslims to "hunt down" and kill those who insult Islam following the Pope's controversial remarks about the religion last week.

Somalia's powerful Islamist movement has condemned the nun's murder as "barbaric and contrary to the teachings of Islam" but has not ruled out any possible motive for the attack.

However, Bishop Giorgio Bertin, Bishop of Djibouti and Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu told Fides that "the murder of Sr Leonella must be seen in the context of the situation in that country where rising tension is due to a series of causes".

Sister Leonella "seed of hope": Benedict

AsiaNews adds that in a telegram of condolences, Pope Benedict expressed the wish that Sr Leonella's blood may "become the seed of hope for building authentic brotherhood among people in the reciprocal respect for the religious convictions of all."

"Having learned of the tragic death of Sr Leonella Sgorbati," the message reads, "who was savagely killed in Mogadishu, the Supreme Pontiff wishes to express his closeness to Consolata Missionary congregation, as well as to the relatives of the lamented nun who joyfully worked at the service of the Somali population especially in favour of new life and in the area of health training."

"In reaffirming steadfast disapproval of all forms of violence," the telegram goes to say, "His Holiness hopes that the blood spilt by such a faithful disciple of the Gospel becomes the seed of hope for building authentic brotherhood among peoples in reciprocal respect for the religious convictions of all and, in raising fervent prayers of suffrage for this meritorious missionary, imparts his apostolic blessing to her religious sisters and to all those who are mourning her violent death."

Pope: may Sr Leonella's blood become the seed of hope for building brotherhood among peoples (Asia News, 19/9/06)
Africa/Somalia (Fides, 19/9/06)
Catholic nun forgave killers as she lay dying (Toronto Star, 19/9/06)
Nuns flee Somalia with body of slain sister (West Australian, 19/9/06)

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Benedict "deeply sorry" for Muslim outrage but violence continues (CathNews, 18/9/06)

20 Sep 2006