Libya: Sr Emmanuela Vassallo FMM – A Martyr

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By Fr John Caruana

Sr Emmanuela Vassallo FMM was killed on the 5th July 1989. “She was my sister…!’” Sr Bruna Menghini wrote about Sr Emmanuela who gave her life up to save Sr Bruna Menghini during a violent assault.

On that fatal day, Sr Bruna was carrying out regular service in the women’s section of a prison in Tripoli, Libya. She needed help for a meticulous job and Sr Emmanuela Vassallo accompanied her. Sr Bruna was attacked by a prisoner and Sr Emmanuela intervened: she received a fatal blow and Sr Bruna was seriously wounded. In hospital, they were placed in beds side by side, separated by a screen. It was there that Sr Bruna heard a nurse say that Sr Emmanuela had died.

Sr Emm. Vassallo FMMSr Bruna keeps two photos in front of her: one of her mother who has given her life in a family which was to become numerous and another of Sr Emmanuela, who has given her life to save hers and who belonged to a family of all languages and nationalities, spread throughout the whole world, the FMM family. Two mysteries of love which God places in the hearts of those who listen to his voice: Sr Emmanuela gave her life in a heroic act of sisterly love, a love particularly cultivated during her FMM life and lived with enthusiasm and generosity. A heroic and spontaneous love, she shed her blood, this blood which Sr Bruna saw flowing: “How can I not think of her when I hear the words of the Consecration: It will be shed for you and for all ..? It is the mystery of love, which Christ renews each day, and which He makes live again in our lives.”

Sr Emmanuela was a very simple, friendly, timid and generous nun. She loved community life, sharing a simple relationship with her nuns and the people she met. She had worked a great deal in the field of women’s formation, teaching sewing to young girls and women. Her last years were spent in the house which received adolescents abandoned from birth. She loved them very much and helped them not only through work but also by her attention, full of affection and care for their future.

Seeing retirement age approaching, she had the great desire for another nun to take her place with the young people. At that time the Congregation needed a ‘house mistress’ for the fraternity. She was ready for this service but had one regret: to have to leave ‘her daughters.’

Sr Emmanuela had a large family in Gozo. She joyfully counted her great-nephews and great-nieces at each birth – they were more than a hundred! She was full of the joy of life. When her nephew Philippe became a priest in 1988, it was for her the climax! What joy and what thanksgiving! She had to convey.

She knew how to communicate faith and in Tripoli she was involved in the preparation of the children for their First Holy Communion, work which she accomplished with much devotion and interest in each one. Sr Bruna recalls that one day she came back to the house deeply distressed: it happened that one of ‘her’ children nearly drowned in the sea; the child’s father jumped into the water and pulled the child out, losing his own life in the ordeal. How many times Sr Emmanuela would recall this heroic gesture! Was it a presentiment?

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