VATICAN CITY, JULY 17, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI expressed his profound sadness over the murder of Bishop Luigi Locati, apostolic vicar of Isiolo, Kenya, and his deep gratitude for the deceased’s evangelical witness.
The Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, meanwhile, reported that evidence seems to indicate the prelate’s murder was premeditated.
The Pope relayed his sentiments in several telegrams sent on his behalf by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and published by the Holy See on Saturday.
In a telegram to Archbishop Alain Lebeaupin, the papal nuncio in Kenya, the Holy Father said he was “profoundly saddened” by the “tragic death” of Bishop Locati.
The Pope expressed his “heartfelt condolences” and “assurance of his closeness in prayer to the clergy, religious and faithful” of Isiolo, in northeastern Kenya. He also praised Bishop Locati for the pastoral concern he showed in his work.
Met the Pope
Bishop Locati, who would have turned 77 next Saturday, had the chance to meet Benedict XVI personally in Rome at the May 25 general audience. Numerous media have published the photograph of their encounter.
“Commending the late bishop’s noble soul to the infinite mercy of God our Father,” reads the telegram to the Kenyan community of faithful, “His Holiness gives thanks for the selfless witness to the Gospel and the advancement of human dignity which characterized his priestly and episcopal ministry.”
Benedict XVI “prays that Bishop Locati’s death may hasten the dawn of that peace and reconciliation to which he devoted himself to the last.”
The murdered apostolic vicar had presented his resignation for reasons of age, and was waiting for the appointment of his successor.
He was shot at close range by gunmen on the night of July 14, as he was walking the short distance from the parish center to his residence. The murder is under investigation.
On Saturday, Archbishop Lebeaupin, the papal nuncio, presided over a Mass for the repose of the soul of the murdered bishop. In attendance were priests, Catholic faithful and members of other religions.
Benedict XVI imparted his apostolic blessing through the telegram to all those present, as a “pledge of consolation and strength in Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Fidei Donum priest
A native of Vinzaglio, Italy, and a priest since 1952, Luigi Locati had been since 1962 a “Fidei Donum” priest — one sent by his diocese to another country where there is a shortage of clergy — in the Meru Diocese of Kenya.
In 1995 he was appointed first bishop of the new Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo, established from the territory of the Meru Diocese. He received episcopal ordination the following year.
Benedict XVI also expressed his “profound grief” for the “barbarous murder” of Bishop Locati.
The Pope further told of his “spiritual participation in the unexpected mourning” of the relatives of the “heroic missionary” and sent another telegram, through Cardinal Sodano, to the deceased’s home diocese of Vercelli.
Addressed to Vercelli’s archbishop, Enrico Masseroni, the Pope highlighted Bishop Locati’s “generous episcopal ministry” among the Kenyan peoples, and thanked God for him.
Today, L’Osservatore Romano again dedicated its front page to Bishop Locati, emphasizing the “profound sense of shock” that “unites Italy with Kenya.”
“The brutal murder of Bishop Luigi Locati, apostolic vicar of Isiolo,” has profoundly affected all those in Italy and Kenya “who had the privilege to know him,” the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper said.
This was manifested particularly by the “children of Isiolo, to whom Bishop Locati dedicated a large part of his missionary activity.”
New evidence in connection with the bishop’s murder points to the fact that it was a “real execution, perpetrated by some killers who set up the ambush,” the newspaper said. The assailants “stunned” the bishop, and killed him by shooting him “in the head and throat,” it said.
The Missionary Service News Agency said that Bishop Locati’s remains will be taken to Italy, where he will be buried in the family vault, after the funeral Wednesday in the cathedral of Isiolo.