“You shall confirm this word through the example of a holy life, with the fruitful exercise of love, with the spirit of sacrifice… and also with the heroism of martyrdom if you are called to this too. ” (S. G. M. CONFORTI, 16th Address to departing missionaries, 13 March 1927)
By Sister Elena Conforto, MMX (Superior General of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary)
Six years have now passed since the afternoon of 7 September when our sisters, Olga Raschietti, Lucia Pulici, and Bernardetta Boggian, were brutally killed in their home in Kamenge, a suburb of Bujumbura, Burundi. To this day, we are still waiting to know the full truth about their death.
Olga, Lucia, and Bernadette were selected victims of a hidden verdict in which their personal behavior seems to have had no influence. However, their life consecrated to God and the people, and their choice to live in an unprotected way among the people, made them targets for those who wage war against God and goodness.
They were not living in particularly risky situations, contrary to what one might think; on the contrary, they lived a tranquil daily life marked by “the fruitful exercise of charity,” of which St. G. Conforti writes above. This was a life made up of hospitality and small gestures that appeared simple and their acts were performed low key with much love and fidelity.
Remembering them after some time, especially during the Xaverian Jubilee Year (2020-2021), is to draw on that heritage left to us by the multitude of witnesses who are part of the history of the Xaverian Family: “their testimony speaks to us with the eloquence of facts, of the totality of missionary consecration.” (from iQuaderni de iSaveriani 114, p.18)
Our three sisters, beginning with the placing of their lives in God’s hands on the day of their religious profession, have spent their whole life in the service of the little ones. For them, martyrdom was the final act of this total gift to God, the most beautiful and effective synthesis between apostolic and religious life. (Cf. C 18)
Remembering this today is to celebrate the power of goodness, the life that remains and is reborn despite everything; to remember the sacrifice of their life in the name of the Gospel is to proclaim faith in Jesus, which allows us to face certain situations even when fear assails.
The endurance of goodness is more relentless than the aggressive violence of evil, which is powerless if we don’t give in. Death did not have the last word. From their sacrifice came a strength which is hope and resurrection also for us today, immersed in the new challenges in which our respective missionary families find themselves.
Now, in Kamenge, the sisters’ house has become a place of prayer open to all. Ever since Olga, Lucia, and Bernadette were snatched from life and people, a group of individuals continued every day to visit their chapel, to gather in prayer with the desire to keep alive the memory and the presence of the God of Peace.
It is like a miracle to see that a place marked by death can become a source of life and hope; that a tomb can be transformed into a space in which to experience resurrection, reconciliation, and dialogue.
Let us ponder and make our own the words of Bernadette: “Providence has given me the gift of meeting with different peoples and cultures, of seeing breathtaking views. I met wonderful people, Christians, and believers of other religions: faces that parade before me, making me relive the amazement of having encountered the seeds of the Gospel already present. The Africa I met strengthened my trust in God; I was struck by the cordial welcome, the joy of sharing what little there is with the guest, the joy of meeting without keeping track of time. It is necessary to nurture in us a gaze of sympathy, respect, appreciation of the values of the cultures, of the traditions of the peoples we meet. This attitude helps to find more easily the appropriate language and gestures to communicate the Gospel … [and] perceive the presence of a Kingdom of love that is being built, that grows like a mustard seed, of a Jesus who is present and given for all.”
With gratitude, we remember Bernadette, Olga, and Lucia. We believe that their life given up through the shedding of blood continues, together with that of many martyrs, to be the seed of new Christians and an example for all of us of how we love to the end, handing over Everything.