The commemorative plaque of White Sisters
who died as a result of violence,
unveilled in the crypt of the Generalate
of the Missionaries of Africa.
23rd MAY 2017
Introduction By Sr. Carmen Sammut
Today we come to remember our sisters who lived their consecration to the end and died a violent death. We want to be inspired by their fidelity and the gift of their lives. Pope Francis during the ceremony to commemorate the modern martyrs at the Church of St Bartolomeo in Rome in April 2017, said: “How often, in difficult moments of history, have we heard it said: ‘Today our country needs heroes’? Likewise, we can ask, ‘Today, what does our Church need?’ Martyrs, witnesses, that is, everyday saints of ordinary life, lives lived coherently.” We are all called to this.
“But we also need those who have the courage to accept the grace to be witnesses until the end, until death. Martyrs are the witnesses who carry forward the Church; those who witness to the fact that Jesus is risen, that Jesus is alive, who witness to Him with coherent lives and with the strength of the Holy Spirit that they have received as a gift.”
Indeed this appeal is for all of us and is well expressed in our Constitutions, as it has been in all of our Rules since the beginning of our Congregation:
“The love of Christ urges us” And gives us strength to live the paradoxes of our mission: Dispossession or enrichment, readiness to leave or to remain. This love also leads us to become all to all and to recoil before no hardship, Not even death itself, to help bring about the Kingdom of God. (Constitutions of 1981, N° 9)
Appreciation of our sisters who died a violent death
“… they must be all things to all people … and do not shrink from any difficulty, not even before death, when it comes to extending the Kingdom of God in this way …” (Cardinal Charles Lavigerie).
This text written for us by the hand of the Founder in 1874 has remained in all successive editions of our Constitutions including those of 1981 N°9: Our precursors drew from it strength, courage and zeal.
Among our predecessors, we think especially tonight of the 10 Sisters named on this plaque.
On the 5th March 1919 at Biskra in the Sahara, Sr. Isabella was sowing clothes. This was part of the service that the Sisters rendered to the Military Hospital of Biskra. A mentally sick soldier belonging to the Senegalese Division of the French Army grabbed a gun from one of the guards and shot the sister. They were unknown to each other.
St. Jean de Patmos, Sr. Marie Angélique, Sr. Domitille, Sr. Marie Borgia, Sr. Françoise de Genève and Sr. Hermine were part of the nursing staff of the Cervantes Eye Clinic in Algeria. In November 1942, in the middle of the war, the Allies landed in Morocco and Algeria. The Germans bombarded new strategic points of which Algiers was one. On the evening of the 22nd November 1942, while all the sisters of the community were gathered in the chapel, a bomb exploded in front of the Tabernacle killing five sisters outright and severely injuring the sixth, Sr. Hermine. She died of her injuries on the 27th November.
On the morning of the 13th September 1956, at the village of Ighil-Ali in Kabylia, people came to ask the ‘sister-nurses’ to come to treat a sick child. Sr. Pierre Fourier along with Sr. François Solano (she is still alive in Canada) went with them. They were brought to the outskirts of the village and taken hostage. They spent thirty four days in captivity in the mountains. Finally around mid-October there was a hope of a return to Ighil-Ali under escort through the mountains. Then on the following day, Tuesday 16th October, they were ambushed and spent all day under the fire of battle. Sr. Pierre Fourier was hit by several bullets…
Sr. Cecilia Jansen died in Kampala, Uganda as the result of an attack by a car thief. The event occurred on the 22nd June 1972 as Sr. Cecilia, a nurse, was bringing a sick person to hospital in Kampala from Villa Maria. As she stopped in front of the medical office to complete admission procedures, she was accosted by a man who demanded the keys of the car. She did not take him seriously and he shot her in the stomach. She was brought immediately to hospital and given the best of care but she eventually died on the 14th July.
At the beginning of January 1996, Sr. Claudia Murphy was on holidays at Cape Coast, Ghana with her friend Patricia. On the 8th January around 17.00 hours, she decided to go to the beach. While her companion lay down a short distance away, Claudia sat and read. A young man (drug addict, mentally ill, we do not know) attacked Claudia and struck her three times on the back of the head with a machete. Death was practically instantaneous. Her companion ran to her help and was also killed.
Claudia was the eldest child in a family of ten. She was 65 years of age of which 34 years of religious profession. On the eve of her first profession, she wrote, “I have little to offer, but I offer my whole person with the firm will to be all for God.”
This is more than just a reminder that we all have to die (memento mori). We wish to celebrate this offering, this firm desire to be all for God by our sisters (and brothers). It is there that their life and ours meet today because we have all offered our life to God and it is from their example that we can draw strength, courage and zeal.
And their lives touched other lives…
Two years ago, I received an email from a lady called Demelza in England. She had learnt that her grand-aunt was one of our sisters. It turned out to be Sr. Marie Borgia (Frances Wilkinson), who at 30 years of age was the youngest of the group who died during the bombing of Algiers. She was a doctor and a convert from Anglicanism. Not being very sure about what way to follow, she did a retreat with a Missionary of Africa as Spiritual Director and then decided to give her life for the mission. Her decision was very badly taken by her family and she could no longer see them.
Two weeks ago, Demelza wrote to me again and she sent me three photos of Sr. Maria Borgia. She was happy that these photos had been kept while the rest of her life as a young woman had been obliterated. She said in her letter, “The father of Frances was also a doctor and for more than 20 years, he had tried to eradicate the plague among the poor of the Punjab in India. Is it not very sad that someone who had spent his life helping others could be so very hard on his daughter, who in her own way, was continuing his work? I am proud of the courage and spirit of Sr. Maria Borgia. Before my children were born, I worked for 12 years for Amnesty International in Asia in order to protect the oppressed in dangerous places. At that time, I did not know about Sr. Marie Borgia, but looking back I see where my work was inspired.
I hope that my children will have the strength to live up to their values and convictions when they are grown up.”
May we be able to draw strength, courage and zeal in the lives of our sisters and brothers who have gone before us on the route to martyrdom.
May we be able, humbly, to offer our lives to God and receive from Him the grace of witnessing to Him up to our death.
May our prayers touch others and encourage them to be witnesses. Thank you
Sr Gisela Schreyer, smnda