“May the blood shed by the sisters be the seed of hope to build true fraternity”

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Three elderly Italian Xaverian missionary nuns were killed at two separate moments at their convent in Kamenge. The reasons for the murder are not yet known. The killings came as a big blow to the local community which was very attached to the nuns.

Pope Francis reacted immediately to the news by sending a message directly to the Superior General of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary, Sister Ines Frizza. He wrote that he was “Deeply saddened by the tragic death of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters killed in Burundi”: Lucia Plici, Olga Raschietti And Bernadetta Boggiani. He said, “He hope[d] that the blood they have shed may become the seed of hope to build true fraternity between peoples” and “assure[d] his heartfelt participation in the profound suffering of the Congregation for the loss of such dedicated sisters” raising "generous prayers" "for their generous witness of the Gospel.”

Sister Bernardetta Boggian, one of the three Italian nuns brutally murdered in Burundi, was decapitated. The deputy director general of Burundi’s police, Godefroid Bizimana, communicated this and other horrifying details about the deaths to France Press. “All three of them were raped,” he said.

The reasons and circumstances surrounding the deaths of the three nuns is shrouded in mystery. It was suggested it may have been the outcome of an attempted robbery and possibly committed by someone who was mentally unstable. But the fact is investigators are currently at a loss as to why the killings took place. Fr. Mario Pulcini, the superior of the Saverian missionaries in Burundi described the run-up to the discovery of the bodies. “It happened completely out of the blue and has caused immense pain…” Fr. Pulcini tells Saverian news agency MISNA. “Around 4 pm yesterday, sister Bernardetta came to my office asking about sisters Lucia and Olga who had stayed at home while she and sister Mercedes had gone to the airport to pick up the other nuns who were returning to Burundi from their general chapter in Parma (Italy). Suspicions were aroused when no signs of life came from the house, everything was locked up and all the curtains were drawn,” Fr. Pulcini says.

The priest tried to call the nuns but there was no response. “The gatekeepers had not seen them leave the building. Neither had they been to visit some sick people they used to go and see, especially on Sundays. I was at the entrance and about to break the lock when the door opened and Bernardetta came out with a look of shock on her face. She had opened one of the service doors on the side of their open house and upon entering had found the lifeless bodies of sisters Olga and Lucia.”

The civil, military, judicial and religious authorities were warned immediately. The police arrived to inspect the scene and interrogations began. These were mainly focused on the house staff. The other nuns decided to sleep in the residence despite the tragic event. “Then, last night, the nuns called me again; they were afraid the aggressor had returned to the house. I got dressed and went there with another confrere. We entered and went round checking the rooms: we found sister Bernardetta lying on the floor in her room, in the same position as the two nuns found the previous day.” “ All of us here are in shock,” Fr. Pulcini said. “This whole thing is too big, it could be an act of revenge….But we cannot find any justification whatsoever, any reason for such a bloody murder to be committed. We are searching the local neighbourhoods, asking questions right, left and centre…”

One witness, Jean-Marie Niyokuru, said he “saw a man climbing up the convent Wall and then we heard people saying that the two nuns had been decapitated with a knife.” The three murdered nuns had returned to Burundi despite poor health. “They were three elderly missionaries with big health problems who had just returned to Burundi because they wanted to be with their people,” said sister Giordana, the Director General of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary in Parma. “We are shaken and shocked by the news. The local people are as shocked as us and there are masses of people coming to the mission to show their support to the nuns.”

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By Marco Tosatti