ethnic groups has been shot and killed just days after tribal massacres in the impoverished African nation, Catholic leaders and police confirmed Friday, July 15. The 76-year-old Italian Bishop Luigi Locati of Isiolo diocese, who worked among the warring Gabra and Borana communities, was shot to death Thursday evening, July 14, as he walked with a guard near his residence from a centre for Catholic clergy, police officials and the Vatican said.
Although several priests have died violently in Kenya in recent years, this was the first time a bishop had been killed in the country, the Catholic World News (CWN) news agency reported.
The attack came after hundreds of armed gunmen in the same northern region killed at least 76 people, including a large number of school children, on Tuesday, July 12, CWN and other news sources said.
HACKED TO DEATH
The massacre reportedly happened in Turbi, a remote area about 350 miles (560 kilometers) north-east of the capital Nairobi. Assailants allegedly hacked to death and slashed the throats of children at a boarding school in the village, while most of the adults were shot.
Later one Catholic man survived a revenge attack in which nine people, including children were pulled from a priest's car and hacked to death, a Kenyan newspaper said. Bude Wako, 35, stayed alive for 48 hours under a pile of bodies, reported the Daily Nation, monitored by BosNewsLife.
The Italian priest Adrin Anito, who was forced to watch the killings, was spared because he did not belong to the warring Gabra and Borana groups, the newspaper said. Bishop Locati had tried to broker a peace deal between the two groups further south in Isiolo, 125 miles (200 kilometers) northeast of the capital, before his sudden death late Thursday, July 14.
GUNMEN IN RESIDENCE
Catholic Church representatives and police said three gunmen burst into his residence and accosted the guard before catching up the running bishop. Police Spokesman Jaspher Ombati told reporters the men caught the bishop and hit him on the head.
Locati fell and one of the men drew a gun and shot him in the head, he and other Catholic sources said. The assailants then fled the scene.
"We're treating the killing as an act of an attempted robbery," The Associated Press (AP) quoted Ombati as saying. However police are reportedly investigating possible links to the ethnic clashes in the north.
Church officials in Kenya suggested the bishop may have been killed by militants who resented his reconciliation efforts between the Gabra and Borana groups, which have been fighting over land in his diocese.
At the time he died, Bishop Locato was also helping hundreds of people displaced by the frequent clashes between the two ethnic communities, CWN said. "They have now killed the bishop who was helping and feeding people there. What are the people going to do now?" CWN quoted Father Ndikaru Wa Teresia, a priest at the Holy Family basilica in Nairobi, as saying.
Locati went to Isiolo more than four decades ago to help people in the remote impoverished area, church representatives said.
FAITH AND PRACTICE
"He did this regardless of their faith and practice," Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki told Associated Press Television News on Friday, July 15. Nzeki said the Roman Catholic Church provides most medical services and schools in Isiolo.
"For our hard work, their (the killers) gratitude is the death of our bishop," Nzeki added. "All I can say is may God forgive them and enlighten them to see the foolishness, the stupidity of what they are doing."
Analysts say ethnic clashes are allegedly complicated by the presence of a large Muslim community there. In Kenya Muslims comprise about 10 percent of the country's over 32-million strong population, "but estimates for the percentage of the population that adheres to Islam or indigenous beliefs vary widely," the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said. One in three Kenyans are Catholic, while Protestants make up 45 percent, according to several estimates.
BISHOP'S MISSIONARY VISION
Locati recently announced that he was stepping down and was awaiting his replacement, but the bishop planned to stay in Kenya as a missionary, AP quoted Monsignor Franco Givone, head of the Vercelli Missionary Center near Locati's hometown in Italy's northern Piemonte region, as saying.
Locati was born in Vinzaglio, a village in northern Italy, on July 23, 1928. He had been ordained a priest in 1952. Locati came to Kenya in the early 1960s and began his work as the parish priest in Isiolo and was appointed bishop in 1995, AP reported.
Givone said the bishop had worked in training and education in Kenya. "When I asked him a month ago what he was planning to do, he said: You know I won't go back. I will continue to be a missionary in some village here in Kenya." On Friday, July 15, Catholics were preparing for his funeral. (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and reports from Kenya).