Missionary Priest Dies in Tunisian Explosion

TUNIS, Tunisia, JAN. 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Italian Father Gian-Battista Maffi of the Missionaries of Africa, also known as the White Fathers, was killed in an explosion in Tunis.

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The 54-year-old missionary was in the library of the Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes (Institute of Arabic Literature) on Tuesday afternoon when an explosion took place and a fire broke out.

A letter sent Thursday by the priest’s provincial, Father José Maria Cantal, stated that he arrived on the scene only minutes after the blast and found Father Maffi already lying dead on the floor amid the flames.

Using a fire extinguisher to control the fire, he attempted to retrieve the body, but could not get through the smoke until later. When they finally rescued the body, it was charred.

Father Cantal affirmed that the police are investigating the details of the explosion.

About 60% of the library was destroyed by fire and water, the priest said.

«It is extremely hard on the confreres,» he continued. He said that it is «hardest of all» on the family, especially Father Maffi’s 87-year-old mother.

The provincial ended by underlining the «competence and humanity» of the police and firemen who responded to the emergency immediately and stayed with the missionaries throughout the night.

The White Fathers expressed their unity in prayer at this tragic time. Their Web page gives tribute to Father Maffi, who spent 26 years as a missionary.

He had served in Mali, Italy and Egypt before taking his position at the library in 2007.

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