Birth miracle that put Sister Carola on path to sainthood

Part of the ceremony of beatification of Sr Maria Carola at Kinoru stadium in Meru on November 5, 2022. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Hundreds of Catholic pilgrims on Saturday witnessed the celebration of the Venerable Sister Maria Carola Cecchin in Meru.

Cottolengo nun Carola had been a "Venerable" until yesterday when she became "Blessed", the second last step before canonisation, when one is deemed a Saint.

The elevation of Sister Carola to "Blessed" was the culmination of years of investigations of a miracle attributed to her: Coming back to life of Hilary 'Kiama' Msafiri, who was confirmed a "stillbirth" when his mother Joyce Muriungi gave birth to him on April 14, 2013 at Gatunga in Tharaka Nithi. Mrs Muriungi went into labour on a rainy night and delivered on the road to hospital, assisted by Cottolengo Sisters accompanying her.

After confirming the child was dead, the nuns concentrated on saving the life of the mother. As desperation set in, Sister Catherine Kathoni prayed to Sr Carola for intercession, and the baby came back to life.

Yesterday, Mr Muriungi, who incidentally is a Methodist, said the family felt honoured.

"As a family, we are happy. It is because of the miracle in our family that the whole world is celebrating the life of a holy person, Sr Carola. I am a Methodist but we are planning to become Catholics," Muriungi, a farmer, said, as he watched his now Grade Five son watch the multitude who gathered at the stadium.

According to Father Kinoti Kithuri, the process of beatification of Carola took years of medical investigations, extensive research on how she lived and worked. Importantly, the investigation of a miracle attributed to her intervention (Msafiri's birth) was undertaken, including interviews with medical personnel.

Fr Kithuri, who was coordinating the preparations for the beatification, said Carola worked with "great humility and great obedience" for the Kingdom of God, moving from one station to another.

"Imagine the 1920s. There was nothing, no roads, no houses. But she moved every time she was told by her superiors to move. Obedience is a core virtue in holiness," Fr Kithuri said.

Her life has proved to be a holy one over a 100 years since her death: "There must be a miracle that has been marked by someone who is holy."

In the case of Carola interceding to bring Msafiri back to life, the miracle was investigated by scientists, medical experts and spiritual experts to make sure that the laws of nature were suspended for a fact, that there was no scientific solution that would have brought him back to life.

Pope Francis

Once the miracle was proved, the Bishops and Superiors of the Congregations petitioned Pope Francis, saying something extraordinary had happened.

After the first step of proving the miracle happened, the second step (beatification) was marked yesterday, taking Carola a step nearer to Sainthood.

"Then we will wait for another miracle which you and me can pray for an intervention (through Carola) then state it to the Church which will do another investigation. Once it is shown as a miracle, she will be welcomed into the list of canonised saints," he said.

The rite of beatification was within the Mass, and was led by Postulator of the Cause of Beatification Sr Antoniettta Bosetti, Pope's Delegate Cardinal Antoine Kambanda, Mother Superior of Cottolengo Sisters Elda Pezzuto and Meru Bishop Salesius Mugambi, who made their way to Cardinal Kambanda who is of the same rank as the Pope.

They asked: "Most Reverend Father, we request that you include Sr Maria Carola into the list of the Blessed."

There was a short conversation between the Bishop, Postulator and Mother Superior of the Congregation, as the faithful who filled the ground hang onto every word, in complete silence.

Bishop read a letter from the Pope to make the ceremony official, after Sr Bosetti read Carola's biography.

Bosetti said Carola was born in Citadella, Italy, on April 3, 1877, felt at a very young age the desire to offer herself to God.

Carola's family was part of those who came to witness the ceremony.

After serving for years, her last station was Tigania in Meru where she worked amid various difficulties.

She was a mother of the poor who she catered for with tenderness, said Bosetti.

Her last words aboard a steamship on her way back to Italy to seek treatment and with her life fading away were: "Yes Jesus, I am all yours. My mother Mary present me to Jesus. I desire you, I love you. I want to come with you in Paradise."

The portrait of Sr Carola was unveiled, and her relics were honoured.

Since there was no body or belongings of the nun, the relics (remains) came in form of a cross she used to pray with when she served in the region.

Msafiri, the beneficiary of Carola's miracle, accompanied by his parents, carried the relic to the altar where it was venerated, before the Mass started proper.

Most of the people who thronged the 30,000-seater Kinoru Stadium were, as expected, Catholic faithful but a section belonged to other religious groups who came to witness the elevation of the late Catholic nun from "Venerable" to "Blessed".

Sr Carola is hailed for her heroic efforts and total sacrifice to the Lord as she worked as a missionary in many stations, including Limuru, Tuthu, Iciagaki, Mugoiri, Wambogo, Nyeri and finally in Meru's Igoji and Tigania areas.

She had left Italy accompanied by five other nuns in January 1905 to serve God in Africa and after working for years and faced with difficulties of poor health, she left Kenya on October 11, 1925 for Italy to seek treatment.

However, on November 13, she died aboard the ship and was buried in the Red Sea as was the norm back then when there was no proper means of body preservation.