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The Story of Blessed Carola’s Death “should speak to us all”: Catholic Bishops in Kenya

Mr. Joseph Muriungi (right) and Mrs. Joyce Muriungi (Left) the Parents of Hillay Msafiri Kiama whose miraculous birth led to the beatification of Sr. Maria Carola. Credit: ACI Africa.

The story of the death of the Catholic Nun who was beatified in Kenya on November 5 should inspire Kenyans to give themselves in the service of the Lord and receive well, in their midst, those involved in the mission of evangelization, members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) have said.

In a message delivered on behalf of the Catholic Church leaders in Kenya during the beatification of Venerable Servant of God Maria Carola Cecchin at Kinoru Stadium in the Diocese of Meru, the Chairman of KCCB expressed gratitude to “God for the great wonders” accomplished through the life of the Italian-born member of the Sisters of St. Joseph Cottolengo (Cottolengo Sisters) who served in Kenya as a missionary for two decades from 1905.

“It is touching to learn of the driving force of this missionary, that is, her belief that a good death will pay for everything,” Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde said about Blessed Carola who was born on 3 April 1877 in Cittadella (Padua, Italy) and died on 13 November 1925 aboard a ship on the Red Sea as she traveled from Kenya back to her native country for treatment.

Archbishop Kivuva added, “Indeed, the story of her death reveals she died a good death by offering herself to her master by her last words, ‘Yes Jesus, I am yours’. This message should speak to us all, Kenyans.”

The story of the Cottolengo Sister’s death is narrated in the book, “Blessed Sister Maria Carola Cecchin”, a 2022 publication of the Paulines Publications Africa.

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Described as a story of “the grain of wheat that bears fruit only if it dies, only for love, and an uttermost gift of love”, the story is based on the prayer Blessed Carola made public on the day of her profession to Religious Life.

A witness has been quoted as saying that Blessed Carola had, on her profession day, prayed, “May my body disappear”. 

“She could not know how much the Lord would take her at her word,” Sr. Antonietta Bosetti says about Blessed Carola in the 2022 publication she authored, adding that in realization of her prayer, the Nun who had served among the Kikuyu and Meru people in Kenya “breathed her last during the crossing of the Red Sea on the return journey to Italy on 13th November 1925.”

In the book, Sr. Bosetti narrates, in reference to Blessed Carola, “It was 5 o’clock in the morning. A few hours later, wrapped in a white sheet, she was lowered into the sea, and in a short time, she disappeared beneath the waves of the Red Sea, accompanied by an unstoppable cry from those who religiously attended the moving farewell.”

“She was 48 years old, all lived in a gift of love. Her body was destined to leave no trace on this earth, not so the memory of her goodness and virtues,” Sr. Bosetti further narrates in the 56-page book.

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She continues, “Sister Maria Carola, like 43 other Cottolengo religious sisters, generously made herself available to her Superiors to be sent to proclaim the gospel in Kenya, in the newborn “Consolata” missions and to till the “field” alongside the first Fathers, Brothers and Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation, founded by Canon Giuseppe Allamano.”

Together with other Cottolengo Sisters, she says, Blessed Carola “is part of that group of women who, as an anonymous wrote, ‘since the beginning are called to belong only to God. The thirst for love of one of these creatures has no respite until it sinks into that of the Father.’”

“So it was for our Sr Maria Carola, a missionary with a prophetic gaze, profound charity and an untiring attitude that she placed at the service of the least, as a faithful spiritual daughter of St Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, announcer of the Gospel of Christ, buried in a famous but faraway sea, where it is not even possible to erect a monument in her memory,” Sr. Bosetti adds in the 2022 publication.

In his message during the November 5 beatification ceremony, the Chairman of KCCB thanked God for the “witness of the Blessed Sr. Maria Carola” among the people she served in Kenya.

“On this occasion to which our hearts are filled with gratitude, we as the Church of Kenya glorify God for the great wonders He continues to work among his people,” Archbishop Kivuva said. 

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He added, “Through the witness of the Blessed Sr. Maria Carola who offered her life in this beloved country as a religious sister, we thank all those who received her and never thought all this would have happened.”

The Local Ordinary of Kenya’s Mombasa Archdiocese recognized the collaborative approach Blessed Carola fostered in her missionary life in Kenya shown in her good rapport with local authorities. 

 “Let us work together for the Kenya we want, the Kenya we love. We protect it by working together in the line and the sight of our saint who has given us an example Archbishop Kivuva said. 

He went on to acknowledge the cooperation between the Catholic Church in Kenya and the Kenyan government in the preparation of the beatification ceremony, saying, “We thank God for this great event, a partnership of the Church and the State, and the county. This is a sign of what Kenya can be if we only join hands to walk and work together.”

In her message during the November 5 ceremony, the Governor of Meru County, Kawira Mwangaza, advocated for unity in the example of the life of Blessed Carola.

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“As we celebrate this beatification event, let us celebrate our unity as a people of the same Father. Let us not allow divisions. Instead, let us be united and triumph through the faith, love and hope in the life of Sr. Maria Carola,” Governor Mwangaza said in her message that was read out by her Deputy, Rev. Mutuma M’Ethingia

The Governor added, “Divine providence has granted the Cottolengo family, Meru and Africa a present that invites us all to the paths of holiness. Blessed Maria Carola has been described as the venerable who gave her life in Kenya.”

On his part, the Governor of Kenya’s Tharaka-Nithi County prayed that the beatification event brings transformation in interpersonal relationships, inspiring in the people of God in Kenya the desire to reach out to the “less privileged” in the example of Blessed Carola.

“It is our hope that as we leave here today our lives will be different in terms of how we relate to others and how we use our positions of privilege to be able to serve those who are less privileged,” Governor Muthomi Njuki said.

“We have learnt a lot from this beatification,” the Governor further said, and added, “It is not the length of life that you live but the quality of life that you live; and the quality of life is depicted in how many lives you touch.”

The beatification ceremony was presided over by Antoine Cardinal Kambanda who had been delegated by Pope Francis. 

In his homily, Cardinal Kambanda acknowledged with gratitude “sacrifices and risks” that Blessed Carola made during her 20-year missionary service in Kenya.

“Blessed Sr. Maria Carola represents the holiness of so many missionaries in those days who accepted to endure all sorts of sacrifices and risks to bring the salvation of God to us,” the Archbishop of Rwanda’s Kigali Archdiocese said, adding, “It is the best act of charity that one can do to make the others know the love of Christ.”