Sisters Olga Raschietti and Lucia Pulici, aged 75 and 82, were killed near the Burundian capital of Bujumbura on Sunday. Sister Bernadetta Boggian, 79, died following a second overnight attack on the premises.
“The Holy Father begs the Lord to welcome into his kingdom of peace and light these three faithful and devout nuns,” the Vatican said in a condolence message to the Bishop of Bujumbura, Monsignor Evariste Ngoyagoye.
In a separate telegram to the nuns’ superior, Francis said he hoped that their spilt blood “may become the seed of hope to build true fraternity between peoples.”
Raschietti and Pulici were attacked while people staying in the parish compound were attending an evening mass, a witness said.
“I saw a man climbing the wall of the convent, and then we heard from people in the convent that two nuns had been beheaded with a knife,” Jean-Marie Niyonkuru said.
He said a Burundian convent employee was also murdered.
The diocese of the northern Italian town of Parma, to which the nuns from the Xaverian Missionary Society of Mary were attached, said the murder of Raschietti and Pulici was the apparent “tragic result of a burglary by a deranged person.”
It also said that Boggian was “fatally wounded in a knife attack” that took place despite stepped up security measures at the convent.
Legislator Remy Barampama from the constituency where the killings took place condemned them, saying the convent had done “a lot of good and charity efforts” for local residents.
In 2011, gunmen attacked a convent in northern Ngozi province, killing a Croatian nun and an Italian aid worker. Two men who were jailed for the killings had stolen money from the convent.
The Italian nuns were based in a convent in Kamenge, a district north of Bujumbura that has long been a hotspot of ethnic violence.
Tensions have recently increased in the eastern African country, which is still reeling from a 1993-2006 civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups.
Spectator Wire Services