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Nun who died in backlash over Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address declared martyr

St. John Paul II presents a gift to Consolata Sister Leonella Sgorbati (CNS)

Pope Francis has formally recognised the martyrdom of an Italian Consolata sister murdered in Somalia in 2006.

Consolata Sister Leonella Sgorbati and her bodyguard were gunned down as they left the children’s hospital where she worked in Mogadishu. Their deaths in September 2006 came amid rising tensions in the Muslim world over a speech that Pope Benedict XVI had given in Regensburg, Germany, quoting a Christian emperor’s criticism of Islam.

Most Islamic leaders in Somalia condemned the killing, emphasizing that Sister Sgorbati was dedicating her efforts to the Somali people. She was 65 at the time, had worked in Africa for 35 years and had been in Somalia since 2001.

Rosa Maria Sgorbati was born in 1940. She joined the Consolata Mission Sisters in 1963 and made her perpetual profession of vows in 1972, taking the name Leonella.

Following a nursing course in Englan, she was sent to Kenya in 1970. In 1985 she became the principal tutor at the school of nursing in Meru in eastern Kenya. In 1993 she was elected regional superior of her order, a position she held until 1999.

In 2001 she spent some months in Mogadishu in Somalia, returning in 2002 to set up a nursing school there.

On September 17 2006, four days after returning to Mogadishu from a holiday in Italy, she and her guard were gunned down as she crossed the road from the children’s hospital to the nurses’ accommodation. Her final words were “I forgive; I forgive; I forgive.”

No reason was given for her killing, but it is believed to have been a reaction to Pope Benedict’s words in Regensburg. Two days before her death the hardline cleric Sheikh Abubakar Hassan Malin told worshippers at his mosque to hunt and kill all those who offended Mohammed.

Somalian officials said there would be justice for Sister Leonella’s murder, and two suspects were later arrested.

In August 2013 Sister Leonella was granted the title Servant of God. Pope Francis has now recognised that was killed “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith); her beatification is expected to take place in 2018.

Pope Francis also formally recognised the martyrdom of a 25-year-old priest in Hungary in 1957. Born in 1931 Fr Janos Brenner had been a Cistercian novice, but when the communist government banned religious orders in 1950 he entered a diocesan seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1955.

In December 1957 he received a late-night call to visit a sick person. On the path outside the village, he was stabbed 32 times and died before a doctor could arrive. Although it was never proven, it was believed that communist officials, who did not like his ministry with young people, were ultimately responsible for his death.