Italian nun martyred in Somalia takes step toward beatification

Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA.
Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA.

.- An Italian nun killed in Somalia in 2006 has been officially recognized as a martyr, as Pope Francis moved her cause for beatification forward this week.

Sister Leonella Sgorbati and her Muslim bodyguard, Mohamed Osman Mahamud, were ambushed outside of a hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. Sister Sgorbati was a Consolata Missionary and spent most of her time in Africa, where she taught nursing and aided the sick.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis declared Sister Sgorbati a martyr for the faith, and advanced the causes of several other men and women.

Born Rosa Maria Sgorbati in 1940, the Italian religious felt a strong call to enter the convent from her childhood, but waited until age 20 to enter, heeding her mother’s requests.

Before taking her final vows in 1973, Sister Sgorbati spent nearly a decade of preparation in religious and medical formation.

She later worked at both hospitals and schools in Kenya, and helped start the Hermann Gmeiner School of Registered Community Nursing in 2002. She worked rigorously to have the school internationally accredited, and, in 2006, the first class graduated, just a few months before her death.

On October 17, 2006, Sister Sgorbati was attacked by two assailants outside the hospital around noon shortly after teaching a class. The hospital was across the street from the SOS Village where the nuns lived.

After the first bullet had struck the nun’s leg, Mahamud tried to protect Sister Sgorbati with his body. He was then shot to death, and the nun was shot two more times, severing a major artery. She was then rushed to hospital but died on the operating table.

“Pardono, Pardono (I forgive, I forgive),” where the last words she whispered to Marzia Feurra, a sister in the same order.

A week before the attack, Pope Benedict XVI had given a 40-minute lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany. In his speech, the pope had quoted a critique of Islam by Michael II Paleologus, a medieval Byzantine emperor, in conversation with a learned Persian.

“He turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: ‘Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,’” said Pope Benedict XVI.

While the pope clarified that he was quoting the emperor, the quote sparked protests in some parts of the Muslim world. Sheikh Abubakar Hassan Malin, a cleric in Somalia, instructed followers to kill anyone in the area who offended the Prophet Mohammed.

Sister Sgorbati’s killers have never been identified, nor has any group claimed responsibility, but suggestions quickly arose that the attack was connected to the uproar caused by the speech, which also prompted violence against several churches along the West Bank and Gaza strip.

On the Sunday following the attack, Pope Benedict XVI publically apologized for any offense taken by the Muslim community, stating the quote was from a medieval text and did not represent his opinion of Islam.

“I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.”

The pope later addressed the martyrdom of Sister Sgrobati, calling her bloody testimony a sincere witness to the Christian life.

“This Sister, who served the poor and the lowly in Somalia for many years, died with the words ‘I forgive’ on her lips: this is the most genuine Christian witness, a peaceful sign of contradiction that demonstrates the victory of love over hatred and evil.”

Tags: Martyrs, Catholic News, Nun

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