Monday, September 18, 2006

Nun Shot in the Back: "I forgive. I forgive."

From the Associated Press ... Nun Forgave Somalia Killers. In full ...
Sister Leonella, a nun who devoted her life to helping the sick in Africa, used to joke there was a bullet with her name engraved on it in Somalia. When the bullet came, she used her last breaths to forgive those responsible.

"I forgive, I forgive," she whispered in her native Italian just before she died Sunday in the Somali capital, the Rev. Maloba Wesonga told The Associated Press at the nun's memorial Mass in Nairobi on Monday.

Sister Leonella's slaying raised concerns that she and other foreigners killed in Somalia recently are victims of growing Islamic radicalism in the Horn of Africa country, where a hard-line Muslim militia has been expanding its reach.

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

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 who were driven out of Mogadishu in June.

The nun was the latest victim in a wave of slayings of both foreign workers and moderate Somali intellectuals that has coincided with the rise of the Islamic radicals.

Among them were Swedish journalist Martin Adler, who was killed in June during a demonstration in Mogadishu, and a prominent Somali peace activist, Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, who was murdered a month later. BBC journalist Kate Peyton was shot dead last year.

Sister Leonella, whose birth name was Rosa Sgorbati, had lived and worked in Kenya and Somalia for 38 years, her family said.

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She was shot as she left the Austrian-run S.O.S. hospital. Her bodyguard also was slain. The two were walking the 30 feet from the hospital to the nun's home, where three other nuns were waiting to have lunch with her.

"She had no chance," Huber said. "It was like an execution."

Sister Leonella was aware of the dangers in Somalia and used to joke that there was a bullet with her name engraved on it. "But this never deterred her or discouraged her," said Wesonga, who is secretary of the Catholic archdiocese of Nairobi, capital of Kenya.

Outside the S.O.S. hospital in Mogadishu, Halima Hassan said Sister Leonella was a "kind person who loved mothers and children. We have lost a great person."