domenica 19 novembre 2017

By Rev. Fr. Casmir Odundo


By Rev. Fr. Casmir Odundo
It is barely two years, since Sr. Irene Stephanie Nyaatha, a Consolata sister was beatified, in a moving ceremony at Dedan Kimathi University, Grounds Nyeri. Even before this dust settles, momentous news have since followed:  One week ago, on 8th of November 2017, Pope Francis approved that Sr. Leonella was killed in odium fidei, (hatred for the faith) hence a martyr, paving the way for her Beatification.  

Sr. Leonella was born, Rosa Maria Sgorbati  on 9 December 1940 in Gazzola near Piacenza, Italy as the last of three children to Carlo Sgorbati and Giovannina (called Teresa) Vigilini. She was baptized moments after her birth in the San Savino parish church, Italy. Her family, later relocated to Milan on 9 October 1950 for her father to find work; he died on 16 July 1951. 

As a teenager, she felt called to become a religious nun in the missions. When she turned sixteen years of age, she was able to make this desire known to her family. Her mother did not approve of this choice and asked that she wait until she turned 20. That time came and Sgorbati reaffirmed her desire to become a nun.  She joined the Consolata Mission Sisters, a religious congregation of women founded by Blessed Joseph Allamano. She began her postulancy in San Fre in Cuneo on 20th May 1963. Later, on 21st November 1963 she joined the novitiate in Nepi under the guidance of Sr. Paolina Emiliani. After her temporary profession, she went to England to undertake a nursing course from 1966 to 1968.  In 1970 she was sent to Kenya for the missions. From 1970 until 1983 she served at the Consolata Hospital Mathari in Nyeri and at the Nazareth Hospital in Kiambu as a nurse and midwife. In November 1972, she made her perpetual profession. In mid-1983 she started her advanced studies in nursing and in 1985 became the principal tutor at the school of nursing attached to Nkubu Hospital in Meru. In November 1993 she was elected as the regional superior of the Consolata Missionary Sisters in Kenya and retained the position until 1999.  She then a spent a sabbatical in 2000 and then in 2001 spent several months in Mogadishu in Somalia looking at the potential for a new nursing school in the hospital that the SOS Children's Village managed. This Nursing school i.e. The "Hermann Gmeiner School of Registered Community Nursing" opened in 2002 with Sgorbati in charge of it. The first 34 nurses graduated from the school in 2002 with the World Health Organization awarding them with certificates and diplomas since Somalia had no government since 1991 at that stage. Sgorbati was a fluent Somali-speaker. 

In due course, she was also keen to train tutors for the nursing school and so returned to Kenya with three of her now-graduated nurses in order to register them for further training at a medical training college. But Sr. Sgorbati faced difficulties in obtaining her own re-entry visa to Mogadishu due to the new rules of the Islamic courts that now controlled the town and its environs. Yet she managed to return to Mogadishu on 13 September 2006 after a vacation in Italy that February. On 17th September 2006, just after 12:30pm when she finished teaching and was crossing the road to go nine meters to the sisters' accommodation where three other nuns were waiting to have lunch with her, the worst was to happen. Two gunmen emerged from taxis and kiosks and shot her in the back four times, the first bullet hitting her thigh. Her guard and driver, Mohamed Osman Mahamud (a father of four), shielded her and was himself struck down after opening fire with their attackers. Another bullet had entered her back and severed an artery with caused a severe and instant haemorrhage. Sr. Sgorbati was rushed to the SOS Hospital but died there on the operating table. Her final words were  “pardono, pardono, pardono,” "I forgive; I forgive; I forgive" which she whispered to her colleague Sr. Marzia Feurra. Later in the afternoon, a plane came to take her remains to Nairobi where it arrived on 9pm and took her remains to the Lee Funeral Home. 

The attack is believed to be in response to the controversial comments that Pope Benedict XVI had made in his Regensburg lecture. Following this lecture on 15 September a hardine  muslim cleric Sheikh Abubakar Hassan Malin told worshippers at his mosque to hunt and kill all those who offended the Prophet Mohammed. Several humanitarian workers and Christian volunteers were slain around that time.  

Somalia officials vowed justice for the nun's murder with two suspects arrested and Somalia's Islamic Courts Union launching their own investigations into the murder; Yusuf Mohamed Siad of the Islamic Courts said that two suspects were arrested. The Holy See, through Fr. Federico Lombardi  immediately described the murder as a "horrible act."  Sr. Sgorbati’s funeral was celebrated on 21st September at the Consolata Shrine in Nairobi with the Bishop of Djibouti, Somalia Giorgio Bertin presiding. The Italian ambassador to Kenya was present as was the Kenyan United Nations representative. In his homily, Bishop Bertin said that Sr.Sgorbati would be remebered as a religious who stressed a message of love and togetherness; She always said, he remarked: " together life is possible."  On 24th September 2006, during his Angelus remarks, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the slain nun as "one who lived the logic of Christianity, that is giving of self to others, at times to the point of sacrificing one’s life because of Jesus Christ. She worked concretely as a servant of love and artisans of peace.” She lay down her life for others servant of love". On 13th October 2008, a Mass was celebrated for the occasion of the cross that she wore being transferred to the San Bartolomeo all'Isola church in Rome. Pope Francis venerated this cross relic on his visit to the church on 22nd April 2017. 
The process for her beatification was called for after her death and gained momentum in 2011 at the Consolata Sisters General Chapter in which it was agreed that the General Directorate of the Consolata Sisters would launch a formal application for the slain nun's beatification process. The formal request to the Mogadishu diocese was made and accepted both on 25 September 2012 at which point a formal application was made to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On 31st August 2013, The "nihil obstat" (no objections) was granted to the cause and titled Sr. Sgorbati as a Servant of God. The diocesan process was held in Mogadishu from its inauguration on 16 October 2013 until its solemn closure not long after on 15th January 2014. The Congregation for the Cause of Saints validated this diocesan investigation on 19th September 2014 while the postulation compiled and submitted the Positio dossier to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints for assessment at a later stage. Theologians approved it on 6th April 2017 as did the Congregation for the Cause of Saints members some months later on 17th October 2017. On 8th November 2017, Pope Francis confirmed that Sgorbati was killed "in odium fidei" (in hatred of the faith) hence she was a martyr. With this confirmation, all that remains is a beatification ceremony to be held, since for martyrs no miracle is required for beatification as the martyrdom is deemed sufficient. The beatification is scheduled to take place sometime in 2018 pending the date and location. 
The news that Sr. Leonella Rosa Maria Sgorbati, is to be Beatified has been received warmly by many Kenyans and in particular members of her institute, the Consolata Missionary Sisters and 

the Consolata family at large. Sr. Sgrorbati will be the second Consolata Sister to be declared Blessed after Blessed Irene Stephanie Nyaatha in 2015. She will be the third Consolata Missionary to beatified after Blessed Jospeh Allamano and Blessed Irene Stephanie Nyaatha. Both Nyaatha and Sr. Leonella Sgorbati share several qualities. First of all, they belong the same religious Institute i.e. Consolata Missionary Sisters. Secondly, they are both Italians by nationality. Thirdly, they both rendered great service to Kenya, Sr. Leonella served for 30 solid years in Kenya. Fourthly, both of them were buried in Kenya. Fifthly, they are both associated with the nursing profession. 

The Beatification of Sr. Leonella Sgrorbati, comes with its own peculiarities. She is the first Consolata Missionary to be proclaimed a martyr. She is will be the first Blessed from the Consolata Missionaries to have served in Somalia. The news of her declaration of martyrdom paving the way for her beatification coincided with important news for the Consolata Missionaries. On the same day, 8 th November 2017, when Pope Francis issued a decree recognizing her martyrdom, he also signed another document recognizing the Heroic Virtues (thus terming him Venerable) of one of the most important popes in the contemporary age: Pope John Paul I, (Albino Luciani), the pope who served for only 33 days. One of the significant things that this Pope did during his short papacy was to raise the Church of Our Lady of Consolation, in Turin, the principal Church of the Consolata Missionaries to the status of a minor Basilica. 

Sr. Leonella represents a new face of hagiography: Having died just recently in the year 2006, she is indeed a Contemporary Blessed, a Contemporary Missionary and Martyr. Her face is that of Contemporary Holiness. She reminds us, that even in our times, it is possible to be holy. Her declaration of martyrdom and her eventual beatification come at the opportune time when the whole world, in the face of religious extremism, is praying for and working towards religious tolerance. Certainly, she serves as a role model and an intercessor to the many Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers out on a mission in Somalia. We hope that her beatification will eventually sow the seed for peace and prosperity in the horn of Africa. 

We wish the Consolata Missionaries and the entire Catholic Church in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) all the best as they prepare for yet another Beatification.  

The author is Parochial Vicar: St.Veronica Parish, Keringet. Email:

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