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The real Sister Leonella: an interview with Sister Marzia


Sister Marzia, 68, is one of the Italian nuns from the Consolata Order who was working with the late Sister Leonella at the SOS Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. Here, she speaks about her friend and colleague just a day after her tragic death.

Can you tell us what happened?
Sister Marzia: It was half past midday. Sister Leonella had just finished her job at the SOS Nursing School, and was on her way to the SOS Children's Village on the other side of the road. There were always five bodyguards in the area: two at the gate of the SOS Hospital, two at the gate of the SOS Children's Village, and one who crosses the street with us. Four metres from the gate of the SOS Hospital, two armed people shot at Sister Leonella and the bodyguard. They were undercover and could not be seen.

Sister Leonella was killed by seven bullets: one in the heart and the others hit her in the stomach. One shot hit her in an artery and she bled to death.

The bodyguard died some 20 minutes before Sister Leonella - he was a young father. When Sister Leonella was dying, she said: 'i forgive, i forgive, i forgive," and she died in peace. The hospital was immediately full of people all asking after Sister Leonella's condition. I looked out of the window and saw that the road was full of people. Nobody was speaking or looking at the hospital. It was a touching scene and I started to cry. They were all there to express their love for Sister Leonella, to bid her a last farewell. Sister Leonella loved Somalia and Somalia loved her.

Some of the beneficiaries of the SOS Clinic, Mogadishu

Did you notice anything strange during the days before the terrible murder?
Sister Marzia: Not at all! The people of Mogadishu always helped and protected us. Sometimes, when there were problems, the locals would advise us to stop our activities and in five minutes we were away from the scene. In other critical situations, the locals would tell us to be quiet. But yesterday, everything was so quick and violent that we did not have time to react.

We must remember that the situation in Somalia is always irregular and when one lives in this country, one is working in an extremely dangerous situation. We are missionaries, and our work consists of helping poor people, even if it costs us our lives. We will not abandon our goals just because the situation is difficult or dangerous. For 16 years we have been giving a little bit of hope to people who don't have anything. For hundreds of people, the SOS Hospital in Mogadishu is their only hope. They give us hope, and they give us support and the desire to continue working.

Is it true that in the past you yourself were a victim of violence in Somalia?
Sister Marzia: Yes. A few years ago I was kidnapped by an armed group, but the locals, and especially the women, forced this group to set me free. The people of Mogadishu, who share their everyday lives with us, reacted with so much courage that the kidnappers became worried and their reaction was to set me free. People have great powers. This is why I believe that there is still good in the world. Despite this terrible tragedy, we cannot lose our hope in the future. Things must change.

Can you tell us a little more about Sister Leonella?
Sister Marzia: Sister Leonella was a missionary with a big heart. She was open-minded and always found a reason to be optimistic, even in very difficult situations. She always looked for the good in every human being. She worked with a lot of young people and she gave them an important message of love and peace. We wish to avoid controversy. We just want to help people. SOS Children's Villages must now decide how to continue their activities. We pray and hope that our people in Somalia will always be helped.

Is it true that Sister Leonella travelled to Nairobi a few days ago in search of nursing internships which would allow her students to complete their studies?
Sister Marzia: Yes, she visited several medical centres in order to set up internships for her students. She walked for hours despite feet problems, but she managed to get a place for everybody. She had to remain in Nairobi one week longer than planned due to her visa, and she was anxious to come back to her school. Then she returned and this terrible thing happened.

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Relevant Countries: Somalia.

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