News Headlines > Nun killed in Somalia following Benedict XVI Islam speech declared martyr

09 November 2017 | by Christopher Lamb

Nun killed in Somalia following Benedict XVI Islam speech declared martyr

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Many believe Sister Leonella Sgorbati was gunned down in a revenge attack for Benedict's controversial words on Islam

An Italian nun killed in Somalia following a controversial speech on Islam by Benedict XVI has been declared a martyr by Pope Francis. 

Sister Leonella Sgorbati, a member of the missionary Consolata Sisters, was gunned down outside a hospital in Mogadishu in what some believed was a revenge attack for Benedict’s 2006 Regensberg speech where he quoted a 14th century Byzantine who said the Prophet Mohammed brought “things only evil and inhuman.”

According to a fellow sister Leonella - her baptismal name was Rosa - died while repeating the Italian word “perdono” meaning “forgive”. She was renowned as a figure willing to die to help the starving and sick in Africa.

The 65-year-old’s death, followed a day later by Somalia's first suicide bombing, was seen at the time as evidence of an increase in religiously-inspired extremist violence in the country. It is not clear, however, whether her killing was linked to Benedict XVI’s address with Archbishop Alain Paul Lebeaupin papal nuncio in Kenya saying was no evidence that her death was linked to extremism. 

Sister Leonella had lived and worked in Kenya and Somalia for 38 years. She and her bodyguard were shot as the two walked the 30 feet from the Mogadishu hospital to the sister's home, where three other nuns were waiting to have lunch with her.

St. John Paul II presents a gift to Consolata Sister Leonella Sgorbati in Milan, Italy, in this undated photo ©CNS

Very soon after death she was widely seen as a martyr with a cross belonging to her placed in the Church of San Bartolomeo all’Isola in Rome, which houses devotions to martyrs of the contemporary era and is run by the Catholic peace and humanitarian group, Sant' Egidio.

In 2006 Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who also serves as the apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, said Sister Leonella used to joke there was a bullet with her name on it and was aware of the dangers posed by her work. "We can call her a martyr,” he said. 

PICTURE: Sister Leonella Sgorbati ©Consolata Sisters

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