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Last farewell to Sister Leonella


The Consolata Chapel in Nairobi was filled on 21 September by people paying their respects to Sister Leonella Sgorbati, who was killed four days earlier outside the SOS Children’s Village in Mogadishu.

The mass, which was presided over by the Bishop of Djibouti, Georgio Bertin, was attended by the Italian ambassador to Kenya, the Kenyan UN representative, the World Health Organisation's Somalia representative, representatives from the Kenyan government and a delegation from SOS Children’s Villages, headed by Regional Director for East Africa, Willy Huber. Although Bishop Georgio was the main cleric many other priests of all nationalities took part in the mass. Claudio Croce, SOS Children’s Villages Project Director for Somalia, gave the first reading.

In his sermon the Bishop, who has lived in the region for many years and who knew Sister Leonella personally, said that she had been inspired by the idea that a new world had begun on this earth. He spoke also of the Somali bodyguard, Mahamud Mohammed Osman, who was killed along with Sister Leonella and pointed out the contrasts between the two, “a European and an African, a white and a black, a Christian and a Muslim, a woman and a man”. Yet, he added, they lived and they died together. Sister Leonella’s message, he stressed, was one of togetherness, “Together life is possible”.

Message from the Pope

Regional Director Willy Huber laying a wreath on Sister Leonella's grave

A message from Pope Benedict was read out at the mass in which he asked people to take inspiration form the life of Sister Leonella. There were other tributes from Sister Leonella’s fellow Consolata Sisters, who also spoke movingly of Mahamud Mohammed. And the choir of nuns, which had added an African flavour to the mass with their Swahili hymns and African drums, sang one of Sister Leonella’s favourite Italian hymns, Chiara E’ La Tua Parola.

After the mass, Sister Leonella’s body was driven to the Nazareth Hospital about 20km from Nairobi, where she once worked. Local people were able to pay their last respects to her, before she was taken to the small graveyard to lie alongside other departed Italian nuns who had given their lives to Africa. A large crowd watched the final ceremony, led by the Bishop, and several wreaths were laid upon her grave. The burial, under cloudy skies filled with impending rain, was solemn and dignified, yet poignant, as the nuns continued to sing farewell to their friend.

In his sermon Bishop Georgio said that Sister Leonella’s epitaph could well be the words 'I tried', something she often said in her daily life. But perhaps, in the cause of world peace, it would be more fitting to remember her final words, as she lay dying, “I forgive, I forgive…”

Relevant Countries: Somalia.

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