A woman whose gaze extended to the future. A woman with an “extra-large” heart; a woman of dialogue. These are some of the distinctive traits of the personality of Sister Leonella Sgorbati, Consolata missionary nun, killed on September 17, 2006 in Mogadishu. She will be beatified tomorrow, Saturday, May 26, in the cathedral of Piacenza. Card. Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, will celebrate the Mass and will use the pastoral of Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, bishop of Piacenza from 1876 to 1905. “During her thirty years in Kenya, Leonella founded several schools to give a future to the young. She tried to do the same in Somalia, in a much more complicated environment. She was sensitive to everyone’s needs, owing to her physique we used to say that she had an ‘extra-large’ heart. Her students were fascinated by her dedication to them, they adored her, they loved her like a mother. Owing to her service in Mogadishu, where they feared she would proselytize, her life was at risk.” Sister Renata Conti, postulator of the beatification cause of Leonella, drew a portray of the martyr nun. The two women first met a the end of the 1990s, and on many occasions since then.
“She was aware of the danger but she never stopped following the chosen path in the footsteps of the Lord,
she reached a high level of communion with God – which I can testify to having read her diaries -. She was a principled person who donated herself to the Lord. The fact that she will be proclaimed Blessed is an immense source of joy.” Sister Leonella –nee Rosa Maria Sgorbati –was born in Rezzanello di Gazzola, in the province of Piacenza, on December 9 1940, the youngest of three siblings. At the age of ten she moved to Sesto San Giovanni (Milan), where her family opened a grocery store. On May 5 1963 she entered the Consolata Missionaries. She made the first religious profession in November 1965; seven years later – in Kenya, in 1970 – she made her perpetual profession of vows. “As a member of the board of Kenya’s Conference of Women Religious she asked to review the salaries of hospital workers to ensure fair wages and dignified jobs. That’s why I ask the faithful to pray to her,
to ask her intercession in complicated job situations and in difficulties.
She always did her utmost to find a solution.” Leonella arrived in Mogadishu on April 18 2002. Sister Renata met her an evening in May 2006. “She described the situation in Somalia and uttered the phrase known to all those familiar with her story: ‘there will be a bullet for me too.’ I told her not to joke about these things, but she had no doubts. Although she was aware of the risks she was running, she never gave up. I suggested her to leave for a while, but she replied: ‘I can’t let these young people down, I can’t leave the sisters alone; I can’t betray my own vocation.’ She was afraid but she continued with her smile, with the power of her love for the Lord.” That same love accompanied her on September 17 2006, when she was hit by seven bullets while returning from the Children’s Hospital accompanied by her bodyguard Mohamed Mahamud, a Muslim, killed with Leonella. “This Sister, who served the poor and the lowly in Somalia for many years, died with the words ‘I forgive’ on her lips: this is the most genuine Christian witness, a peaceful sign of contradiction that demonstrates the victory of love over hatred and evil”, said Benedict XVI in the Angelus prayer of September 24 2006. Sister Renata reaffirmed it: “She was a woman of dialogue.”
She believed in religious coexistence
Today she would continue to say that it’s possible to get along, to hold hands for the good of mankind. We must not erect walls but bridges, as Pope Francis teaches us.” Kenya’s Consolata sisters have already built a bridge with Asia: they are missionaries in Mongolia, and they will soon carry out their service also in Kyrgyzstan. “The land dreamt by the founder has a lot to give to the whole Church. Africa runs faster than us!”, Sister Renata pointed out.