ISIOLO, Kenya, JULY 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Six gunmen ambushed and shot to death Bishop Luigi Locati, the apostolic vicar of Isiolo, in northeastern Kenya. He was 76.
The bishop, who had been threatened in the past, suffered two attempts on his life in September and May. He was murdered on Thursday afternoon.
“The blood of an heroic witness of the Gospel” has been spilled “once again in mission land,” commented L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper.
“Bishop Locati had just returned from Nairobi, where he had been since the beginning of this week, and went to dine in a pastoral center some 200-300 meters from his residence,” said Archbishop Alain Paul Lebeaupin, apostolic nuncio to Kenya, on Vatican Radio.
“He was returning home accompanied by two persons, when he was attacked and shot. The incident occurred at 7:45 p.m. and he died at 8:15 p.m.,” he said.
L’Osservatore Romano reported that the prelate was hit “in the head by two bullets, he was taken immediately to the hospital.”
“For the time being, the cause of the ambush is shrouded in mystery. Investigators cannot understand the reasons for the merciless execution,” the newspaper said.
A life of giving
A native of Vinzaglio, in the Italian province of Vercelli, Luigi Locati was ordained a priest in 1952.
Since 1962 he had been a “Fidei Donum” priest — a priest sent to countries where there is a need of priests — in the Kenyan Diocese of Meru. In 1963 he became parish priest of Isiolo.
In 1995, he was named first bishop of the new Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo, created from the territory of the Meru Diocese.
At the time of his murder, Bishop Locati had already presented his resignation papers and was hoping to “retire” in Kenya, “to be able to continue to give his energies to the Church,” added the apostolic nuncio.
The archbishop added that the murdered bishop “was a very generous man, who had given most of his priestly life” to the land of Isiolo.
“Monsignor Locati was appreciated by all his fellow bishops, especially the Kenyan bishops. It has been a shock for the entire episcopal conference,” said the papal representative.
“Bishop Locati dedicated all his ‘Fidei Donum’ life to the nomad peoples of the Borana and Turkana ethnic groups,” explained Bishop Ambrogio Ravasi of Marsabit in northern Kenya.
“Two days ago we met together in Nairobi with the nuncio,” he said. “Bishop Locati was happy because he had learned the name of his successor and was returning to his vicariate with the heartfelt certainty of leaving it in good hands.”
Turbi, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Marsabit, in northern Isiolo, had been the scene in recent days of the killing of at least 77 people, most of them women and children — the result of confrontations between the Borana and Gabra communities.
However, according to the Missionary Service News Agency, these incidents do not seem to be connected with the murder of the Italian prelate.
The nuncio in Kenya believes that the reason for the murder was “an act of banditry that cannot be associated either with political or religious events.”
“It is a very sad day because of the demise of a dear friend and of a person who dedicated himself to Kenyans,” said Bishop Martin Kivuva Musonde of Machakos.
“Whoever killed Bishop Locati has cut off the hands that fed him,” he said.
Bishop Locati began several projects that have benefited people of all faiths in the city of Isiolo and outlying areas.
“I am a simple missionary who has chosen to evangelize by promoting education among the young people of Isiolo,” the prelate said about himself recently, according to L’Osservatore Romano.
The Vatican newspaper added: “During decades of missionary activity, Bishop Locati helped thousands of young people to face life, by offering them the strength of truth. His life was a gift to the people of Isiolo. His death is the pledge for the fruitful progress of all the Church in Kenya.”
The bishop’s funeral will be held within a week in Isiolo.
Archbishop Lebeaupin, the nuncio, said that Bishop Locati “often expressed the intention to be buried in the cathedral of Isiolo, which he very much himself helped to build.”