NYERI, Kenya (Reuters) - An Italian nun, who tended the sick and wounded in World War One in east Africa and died in 1930 in Kenya, was beatified on Saturday, taking the final step before sainthood at the first ceremony of its kind in the African nation.
To grant Sister Irene Stefani the title “Blessed”, the Roman Catholic church said a miracle had been attributed to her during Mozambique’s civil war.
Believers say about 270 people held captive in a church in 1989 in the heat of summer invoked her name and enough water came out of the font for them all.
A separate miracle performed after he death will be needed for her to become a saint.
The Church teaches that God performs miracles but that saints who are believed to be with God in heaven intercede on behalf of people who pray to them.
Reading a letter of beatification in Latin from Pope Francis at a ceremony near the Kenyan town of Nyeri, Tanzanian Cardinal Polycarp Pengo declared that the sister “from now on will be called Blessed”. An English translation was read afterwards.
Stefani, born in Brescia, Italy and named Aurelia Jacoba Mercede before taking vows with the Consolata Missionary Sisters in 1914, helped carriers who supported troops during fighting in World War One as conflict spread to British and German colonies.
The carriers often fell sick from disease or exhaustion, according to her biography read at the ceremony. She served in both Kenya and Tanzania, later settling in Kenya where she died aged 39 after contracting plague from someone she tended.
Africans around her at her death declared: “Love has killed her.”
“Today, we have gathered here to see Sister Irene ‘Nyaatha’ becoming the first (missionary) to be beatified on Kenyan soil, and the first Consolata sister,” Archbishop of Nyeri Peter Kairo said. “Nyaatha” means “Merciful mother” in the Kikuyu language.
The church sees such ceremonies as ways to encourage local Christian communities. Other beatification ceremonies have been held in Africa in the past, a church official said.
Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens