Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pleas of peace for Somalia as hundreds mourn slain Italian nun

By Aussiegirl

Forty years of selfless devotion ends in murder for Catholic nun, Sister Leonilla, who with her dying breath uttered the deeply Christian words, "I forgive, I forgive." Think about that for a moment -- or two.

Pleas of peace for Somalia as hundreds mourn slain Italian nun

Hundreds of mourners packed a Kenyan church to pay their last respects to an Italian nun slain at the weekend in Somalia as fears grew for wider unrest in the lawless nation.

While glowing tributes poured in Thursday for 65-year-old Sister Leonella Sgorbati's tireless work with the poor in east Africa over nearly 40 years and her colleagues said they would return to Somalia, many voiced deep concern for the country.

Her murder in Islamist-held Mogadishu amid global Muslim outrage over comments by Pope Benedict XVI followed by an attempt to assassinate Somalia's interim president 24 hours later in the town of Baidoa fueled the pessimism.

[...]Sister Leonella and a Somali bodyguard were shot and killed by two gunmen on Sunday at the SOS charity hospital in Mogadishu just two days after a prominent cleric had called for Muslims to avenge the pope's remarks about Islam.

Somalia's newly dominant Islamist movement, which seized the capital in June after months of fierce fighting, condemned the slayings but has also ratcheted up enforcement of strict Sharia law in areas under its control.

A member of the Missionaries of the Consolation order based in the Italian town of Nepi, Sister Leonella was one of the longest-serving foreign members of the Roman Catholic Church in Somalia, a former colony of Italy.

Three of her fellow sisters working at the hospital were evacuated from Somalia after her death but told reporters at the funeral service that her murder would not keep them from their work there.

"Despite this sad event, we will return to Somalia to continue working and helping people," said one, Sister Gianna Irene Peano, adding that Leonella had had forgiven her killers as she lay dying from her wounds.

"She was such a good person," Sister Gianna said. "Everybody liked her."

"Humanitarian and church workers are often now targeted by those whose agenda is not to help others but to cause mayhem," said Duncan MacLaren, an official with the Vatican-based Catholic aid agency Caritas.

"It will be tragic if Sister Leonella's death leads to our having to close down operations," he said in a statement.

The nun was killed not only at the height of Muslim complaints about Pope Benedict but also amid rising insecurity in already unstable Somalia with heightened tension between the weak transitional government and the Islamists.

Just a day later, President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed survived an apparent suicide car bombing, Somalia's first-ever such attack, in the government seat of Baidoa, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of Mogadishu.

Government officials have hinted strongly that the Islamists, some of whom are accused of links with Al-Qaeda, may have been behind the attack in which at least 11 people were killed, and directly blamed Osama bin Laden's network.


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