Nun Murdered at Shelter Home in Colombia

Masked Gunman Slays Religious Who Cared for the Elderly and Poor

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BOGOTA, Colombia, JULY 16, 2002 ( In the latest round of violence against Church figures, a 44-year-old nun was gunned down after two masked assailants barged into a shelter home she oversaw.

Sister Marta Inés Vélez, of Antioquia, was murdered Sunday night in Mogotes, in the Santander region. Witnesses said two masked men arrived at the Marcelino Shelter of Mothers Institute, which houses 50 elderly people and 45 young women. The nun, a member of the Poor Sisters of St. Peter Claver community, ran the shelter.

One of Sister Marta’s companions said that three shots were fired at a door, and a hoarse voice shouted repeatedly: «Come out or we’ll give you a tanning.» Residents scrambled for cover.

The intruders entered and ran into the nun in one of the corridors. «‘Are you Sister Marta?’ one of them asked,» a witness said. «When she said yes, they shot her in the neck.» The nun was rushed to a hospital, where she died.

Mayor Norberto Tijo of Mogotes said the nun’s murder represented an attack against the life of the region. «The degree of violence we live in Colombia is terrible,» he added. «The crime has definitely changed everyone’s life in Mogotes because if they killed her, who worked only for the community, they can do anything to any one of us.»

Sister Marta Vélez was the delegate of religious communities to the Constitutional Municipal Assembly, created in Mogotes to promote the peace process. The advent of this institution merited the Nobel Peace Prize for the municipality in 1998.

However, public order in the municipality has deteriorated over the past two months, following the death of two peasant leaders. Some 200 families organized a three-day demonstration to protest over the tension and violence caused by the guerrilla and self-defense groups.

Father Luis José Rueda, assistant vicar of the church of Our Lady of Chiquinquira, called the nun’s murder a tragedy. «They killed a leader of the people because in Colombia the Lord’s Gospel has become a sign of contradiction,» he said.

Santander police said it was premature to speculate about who was behind the crime.

On Oct. 2, 1990, in similar circumstances, Father José Antonio Beltrán Monsalve was killed in Colombia, also shot in the neck.

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