The weekend of Sunday, September 7, 2014 saw abominable acts in Burundi as three Italian Catholic nuns, members of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary were killed in cold blood.
According to a press release from the US Xaverian Missionaries Provincial Superior Fr. Carl Chudy, SX, “the nuns were killed at two separate incidences in their convent at Blessed Guido Maria Conforti Parish in Kamenge, Bujumbura, Burundi.” The police have arrested one suspect.
“To dare do this to a grandmother goes beyond any comprehension,” said Bujumbura Archbishop Evariste Ngoyagoye on September 10, in his homily during the requiem mass. Reacting to the news about the murders Africa Faith & Justice Network’s Executive Director, Dominican Father Aniedi Okure said “These murders violate the widely taught, known and practiced African tradition of respect for our elders and the elderly, as well as Africa’s hospitality of welcoming, feeding and protecting the stranger. Besides, these were grandmother figures.”
Sr. Lucia, Sr. Bernadetta and Sr. Olga
Olga Raschietti, 83 is from Vicenza. She became a Missionary of Mary at age 25. In 1968 she was assigned to serve in the DRC.
Lucia Pulici was killed a day before she turned 76. She is from Milan. She became a missionary in 1960 at the age of 21. After serving in Brazil, she was sent to the DRC in 1982.
Bernardetta Boggian, aged 79, is from Padua. She became a missionary at the age of 26 and was assigned to serve in the DRC in 1970. For nearly ten years she served in leadership at the General Counsel level of the congregation.Sr. Lucia and Sr. Boggian had served in Burundi since 2007 and Sr. Raschietti since 2010.
In a press release the Xaverian Missionary Sisters wrote: “In this time of great suffering, the Congregation is grateful to our sisters Olga, Lucia and Bernardetta, who despite poor health, decided to go back and have devoted their lives to the end. Gratitude also to the public and all those who express their sympathy and solidarity. It is in the intimacy that this situation requires that we gather in prayer also for those who committed this senseless act.” The nuns were buried in Burundi’s neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the Xaverian Missionaries’ private cemetery in Panzi, South Kivu province where they served for years.
Missionary Life in Perspective
“The world can change. However, there have to be people like these ready to love and die for love’s sake. Every missionary must be ready to face every challenge. I knew Sr. Lucia and Bernadetta and Olga very well. They lived about 400 meters from me. They were advance in age and they did simple, but meaningful ministry: welcoming, talking and visiting people and all that elderly people are able to do.” said Fr. Claudio Marano, a Xaverian Missionary priest and director of the Kamenge Youth Center. Fr. Claudio was one of hundreds who were expelled from Burundi during President Jean Pierre Bagaza regime. Asked to comment on the significance of the sisters’ martyrdom for the local church and missionary life in general, Fr. Claudio said: “We are happy to be treated like local people. There is violence at all levels, this way we are brothers and sisters not only in words.” Fr. Claudio told Africa Faith & Justice Network that he has security concerns because they threatened him during the civil war, but is not afraid.
This Has happened Before
During the long years of civil war in Burundi an estimated 55 religious workers were killed. Sr. Lucia, Sr. Bernadetta and Sr. Olga are the latest additions to a long list of Catholic ministers (ordained and lay) to give their lives in Burundi. On September 30, 1995, Burundian soldiers killed two Xaverian Missionary priests, Fr. Ottorino Maule and Fr. Aldo Marchiol and Katina Gubert, a missionary volunteer. Local people who witnessed the horror and tried to intervene were also killed in this attack. In 2003 the Papal Nuncio to Burundi, Archbishop Michael Courtney, 58 (an Irish citizen) was shot and killed. In 1997, 40 Burundian seminarians were killed in Buta.
Fallen Seeds Must Bear Fruit
Sr. Lucia, Sr. Bernadetta and Sr. Olga join the many innocent Burundians who died violently over the years during peace and war times and whose lives are the seeds for peace and prosperity for Burundi. Unfortunately, after so many years of bloodshed, violence is far from over in Burundi. The people’s freedoms and human rights are constantly violated. Justice is for sale to the highest bidder and those with political clout. The best way to honor these sisters, innocent servants of God who served Burundians without reservation, as well as those who came before them, is for the country to address the economic and social needs of its citizens. Burundian leaders must not only realize, but also accept that every Burundian is a stakeholder in Burundi’s present and future wellbeing. Consequently they must promote greater freedoms, good governance, and open the democratic space to all. Growing strong in these areas will ultimately pave the way to addressing the needs of Burundian citizens.