The news that reached the Xaverian priests at Xavier Knoll in Franklin on Sunday, Sept. 7 and Monday, Sept. 8 was horrific, but not entirely surprising.
Three Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary were murdered in separate attacks at their residence in Burundi.
“We serve and the Lord allows it to happen and we hope that it will be for some good,” Xaverian Fr. Mark Marangone, an administrator of the community in Franklin told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview.
Sr. Lucia Pulici, 75, and Sr. Olga Raschietti, 82, were found dead Sept. 7 in their convent at Blessed Guido Maria Conforti Parish in Kamenge, in the capital of Bujumbura. Sr. Bernadetta Boggian, 79, who had found the bodies, was killed the next night.
Xaverian Missionary Fr. Mario Pulcini, superior of the Xaverian Missionaries in Burundi, told MISNA, the missionary news service, that he had gone to the mission house Sept. 7 after he and Sr. Bernadetta had been unable to reach Srs. Lucia and Olga by telephone all of that day.
“I was in front of the main door with the idea of forcing it open when it opened and I saw Bernadetta there very upset. She had found a side service entrance open and, once she entered, found the lifeless bodies of Srs. Olga and Lucia,” he said.
They alerted government, military, judicial and religious authorities, the priest said, and an investigation was begun.
Despite the murders, the remaining five sisters decided to spend the night in their home. However, they phoned Fr. Pulcini during the night of Sept. 8, afraid that “the aggressor was in the home.” When the priest arrived, he found Sr. Bernadetta had been killed, too.
The news was especially difficult for Fr. Marangone who got to know Sr. Lucia about four years ago when theyspent a couple months together in Italy, taking a course on spirituality.
Remembering her as a “down-to-earth person who was jovial, good company,” Fr. Marangone said she was involved in nursing, social work and taught religious education. “She was a very dedicated person, always eager to go back to her mission people that she served.
The three missionary sisters had been working in Burundi, helping the poor and sick for the past seven years, according to a press release issued by the Xaverian Missionaries. Prior to that, they spent the majority of their lives working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
After receiving the news of the deaths, Fr. Marangone said a special Mass in their memory was celebrated at Xavier Knoll and he expects a special joint remembrance with the Xaverian community in Worcester might be planned in the future.
According to the release, Xaverian sisters in Parma have told reporters they are shocked by the killings and awed by the fact the Kamenge mission is “full of people” who have come to mourn the nuns and express their solidarity.
Echoing similar thoughts, Fr. Pulcini described the sisters as “loving caregivers … very well loved by the people.” According to the release, he said the murders appear to be the tragic outcome of an armed robbery or a vendetta and that nothing can justify the killing.
Sr. Delia Guadagnini, former regional superior of the Xaverian Sisters for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, told Agenzia Fides News Service said she cannot understand the tragedy.
“In Burundi there was never any misunderstanding and we cannot imagine who would want to hurt us in such an evil manner,” she said in the release. “What happened is a tragedy and a mystery…. The local people are dismayed and find no explanation for such a cruel act.”
A funeral Mass was held in the cathedral in Burundi, Sept. 11, but Sr. Delia noted the bodies will not be brought back to Italy.
“This was the wish of all three of our sister missionaries, and also the desire of the people they loved and served who want to keep them here in Africa: A mark of love to the end.”
Pope Francis mourned the deaths of the three sisters and in telegrams sent to Archbishop Evariste Ngoyagoye of Bujumbura and Sr. Ines Frizza superior general of the Xaverian Missionary Sister of Mary, the pope expressed his sadness concerning the “tragic deaths” of these “faithful and devout nuns.”
The messages, sent on behalf of the pope by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the pope hoped that “the blood they have shed may become the seed of hope to build true fraternity between peoples.”
The deaths inspire the Xaverians to continue their mission work, said Fr. Marangone who has served in Colombia and Mexico.
“We are looking for young adults interested in taking their place,” he said, noting that circumstances that took their life don’t happen often. “Something like that is not going to happen to everybody. There are only a few (murders), thank God.”
He challenged young people to go beyond themselves, whether overseas or in their own communities to serve the church and the community at large.
“Certainly consider an option in life to serve others in this way and live a consecrated life,” he said explaining, that of seven billion people in the world, three-fourth have not heard of Jesus yet.
“We want to reach out to more people, maybe doing a little. By adding a drop of water to the ocean, we make this world a better place, more fraternal, more united, more human,” said Fr. Marangone.
(Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service’s Vatican bureau contributed to this story.)