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Thousands attend Italian nun’s beatification in Kenya

Descendants of Blessed Sister Irene Giovanni Zeccnini, left, Gabriella Guerni, second left, and Patrizia Guerini right, attend her beatification ceremony in Nyeri. Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, May. 23. 2015. Tens of thousands of people have gathered in the central Kenyan town of Nyeri to attend the beatification ceremony of a beloved Italian nun who worked for many years in the East African nation. Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported Saturday that up to 100,000 people from all over the world were in Nyeri Saturday to witness the ceremony during which Sister Irene Stefani was declared “Blessed Irene.” Irene, who belonged to the Consolata Missionary Sisters, first came to Kenya in 1915 and died there in 1930 at the age of 39, according to a website dedicated to her beatification. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)n

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Tens of thousands of people gathered in a central Kenyan town Saturday to attend the beatification ceremony of an Italian nun who worked for many years in the East African nation.

Up to 100,000 people from all over the world gathered in Nyeri to witness the ceremony at Dedan Kimathi University in which Sister Irene Stefani was declared “Blessed Irene,” Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported Saturday.

Millions more watched the event live on television, according to the newspaper.

The ceremony was conducted by Archbishop Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Archbishop John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya.

Stefani, who belonged to the Consolata Missionary Sisters, first came to Kenya in 1915 and died there in 1930 at the age of 39, according to a website dedicated to her beatification.

Beatification is the first step toward possible sainthood, and it comes after official verification that a miracle happened after prayers were offered to the candidate. In the case of Stefani, a 1989 miracle in Mozambique — a country she had never visited — was attributed to her.

The miracle reportedly happened when a group of about 270 people in danger of death prayed to Sister Irene “and the little water in the baptismal font, measuring between four and six liters, was multiplied to enable them to drink and wash for four days, before help arrived from outside,” the Daily Nation reported, citing a priest in charge of Nairobi’s Consolata Shrine.

In Kenya, she was noted for her love and compassion — the reason the locals gave her the nickname “Nyaatha,” which literally means “mother of mercy” in the local Kikuyu language. During her time in Kenya she also served as Red Cross nurse and treated East African soldiers wounded during World War I.

At Nyeri’s Gikondi Catholic parish, where she served for many years as leader of the Consolata Missionary Sisters community, “she remained memorable for her charity toward her sisters, the guests, and anyone who would go to that house for different reasons,” according to the website dedicated to her beatification.

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