Mystery Remains 2 Years After Murder of Nuncio

Archbishop Michael Courtney a Builder of Peace in Burundi

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LOUGHREA, Ireland, JAN. 13, 2006 ( The 2003 assassination of the papal nuncio in Burundi remains «a mystery,» says Bishop John Kirby of Clonfert.

The prelate delivered that message last Sunday when he presided at a Mass to mark the second anniversary of the death of Irish-born Archbishop Michael Courtney, 58.

Archbishop Courtney was shot dead in an ambush in Minago, south of the country’s capital, Bujumbura, on Dec. 29, 2003.

The death occurred in the midst of an endeavor to promote peace in the African country.

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord was chosen for the Mass in St. Brendan’s Cathedral in Loughrea, in County Galway, after which a sculpture by Tom Glendon was unveiled in the cathedral gardens in memory of the murdered archbishop.

«After two years the mystery of the assassination of Archbishop Michael Courtney is still unsolved. We do not know who killed him or why they chose to do so,» said Bishop Kirby in his homily before relatives of the deceased prelate, and ecclesial representatives and civil authorities.

However, the «peace accord in place in Burundi today is largely the result of his endeavors,» said the prelate, who presided over the Eucharistic celebration.

Last wish

Bishop Kirby recounted that Archbishop Courtney, who had been appointed apostolic nuncio to Cuba, asked the Holy See to allow him to stay in Burundi for another month because he believed he was close to «achieving a peace accord of some significance.»

The decision ultimately «cost his life,» said Bishop Kirby.

«While we do not know who planned his death, we know something» of his motivation for life. «He believed in the richness of life and lived his life to the full.»

«As Apostolic Nuncio in a severely divided country,» he said, «he worked assiduously to help bring peace … I know that he was not enamored by his appointment to that country, but I also know that, once he was assigned, he gave all his energy to his work for peace. He was reluctant to leave because of his belief that peace was possible.»

«We honor him in this memorial, but we will continue to honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to a commitment to justice and to peace as its fruit,» the prelate said.

Concelebrating the Mass were Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, apostolic nuncio in Ireland, who was a colleague of Archbishop Courtney in the Holy See’s diplomatic service; Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, primate of all Ireland, former fellow student of Archbishop Courtney in the Irish College of Rome; and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, primate of Ireland, also a colleague and friend of the murdered prelate.

About 62% of Burundi’s 6.4 million inhabitants are Catholic; 23% follow native beliefs; 10% are Muslim; and 5% Protestant.

Burundi is recovering from a 12-year civil war, in which more than 300,000 people, mostly civilians, died.

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