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The Most Reverend Dr. Pietro Salvatore Colombo O.F.M. was born in Carate Brianza, Italy on the 28th of October 1922. On the 6th of April 1946 in Milan, Pietro was ordained a priest, within the Order of the Friars Minor, better known as the Franciscans. That same year he was sent to Somalia as a missionary. From that year until the year of his death in 1989, a total of 43 years, he faithfully served the people of Somalia.
In the 16th of March 1976, Father Colombo was consecrated as the first Bishop of Somalia. On the 20th of November 1975 the Vicariate Apostolic of Mogadishu was elevated by the Holy See to the Diocese of Mogadishu, on that same day Father Colombo was appointed by the Holy See to become the first Bishop of the Diocese of Mogadishu. The Diocese of Mogadishu encompasses the entire territory of Somalia.
Bishop Colombo was respected and well regarded by his small Catholic flock as well as by the non-Catholic Somalis, whether Muslim or secular. Under the regime of President Siad Barre proselytizing was not allowed, but the Church's humanitarian and charitable efforts were tolerated. Bishop Colombo skillfully guided the Church through this delicate period, as well as over seeing the running of various humanitarian aid projects.
On the 9th of July 1989 Bishop Colombo was killed inside Mogadishu's Cathedral. He was shot by an unknown gunman. There is controversy surrounding the murder of Bishop Colombo, particularly in regards to who killed him. President Barre blamed the murder on Islamic militants and offered a reward for their capture.
Many people however believed that Barre had ordered the assassination himself, for various reasons. Bishop Colombo had been an outspoken critic of the Barre regime. The Bishop also helped a clan, out of favour with Barre, to purchase some land. And thirdly, the death of Bishop Colombo was a convenience means of appealing to Western governments for military and other aid. None the less, the death of Bishop Colombo was seen as a turning point in Muslim and Secular relations due to Barre's crackdown in response to the death of Bishop Colombo.
Since the Bishop's murder the Holy See has not appointed a successor to his post. The vacant see of Mogadishu will most likely remain that way until the restoration of peace and stability in the country. For the time being, the Diocese is run by the Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Giorgio Bertin O.F.M. the Bishop of the neighbouring country of Djibouti.
Many considered Bishop Colombo to be a very holy man of God, some might say a Saint- this decision we leave in the hands of Holy Mother Church. But it cannot be denied that Bishop Colombo was a sincere and zealous servant of God, who gave his whole life to the people of Somalia. On Sunday the 16th of July 1989, Blessed Pope John Paul II gave a speech in memory of Bishop Colombo. The words were documented and can be read in the Italian from the Vatican's website here.
Here is an extract from the Holy Father's speech, a fitting testament to the life of Somalia's first and so far only Bishop:
"His death has aroused deep emotion and regret. He had the gift of his priesthood to the mission in Somalia, lavishing it with great zeal and apostolic charity in the care of souls and the service of others. The testimony he gave to the cause, the many initiatives of his concern for the needy, the work of peace are constantly turning into a blessing in the memory of the Church and of all the people of Somalia. For him implore the reward that the Lord reserves to his 'good and faithful servant.'"
May God indeed bestow upon His faithful Bishop the reward of the good and faithful servant, and may He deign in His infinite goodness and mercy to let His servant, Bishop Colombo rest in peace, in the joyous and radiant presence of His glory and majesty. And may this good and holy Bishop look down from his heavenly home upon the Church and land and people he served for so many years, and through his prayers and ours, may Somalia and her people prosper in peace and holiness, united to Christ Jesus in His holy Catholic Church. Amen!
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