Sunday 4 December 2016

Nun who became face of Italy's earthquake texted friends 'adieu' and asked they pray for her soul

Trisha Thomas

Published 25/08/2016 | 22:24

She texted her friends asking that they pray for her soul, only to be rescued by a man she has called her
She texted her friends asking that they pray for her soul, only to be rescued by a man she has called her "angel".

She became the face of Italy's earthquake: Sister Marjana Lleshi, blood staining her veil as she texted her family and friends in her native Albania.

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In an interview on Thursday at the mother house of her religious order, the 35-year-old nun recounted how she thought she would die when her convent walls collapsed.

She texted her friends asking that they pray for her soul, only to be rescued by a man she has called her "angel".

Now safe, Lleshi says she wants nothing more than to go to next week's Rome canonisation of Mother Teresa, the ethnic Albanian nun "who gave hope to those who did not have any".

Lleshi was sleeping in the Don Minozzi convent beside the Church of the Most Holy Crucifix in Amatrice when the quake struck on Wednesday.

She had been there, with six other sisters, caring for five elderly women. Her order, the Sisters of the Handmaidens of the Lord, runs nurseries and homes for the elderly.

She woke up covered in dust and bleeding. Realising what had happened, she immediately tried to summon help outside her room.

No one responded. And she could not get out.

"When I started losing all hope of being saved, I resigned myself to it and started sending messages to friends saying to pray for me and to pray for my soul and I said goodbye to them forever," she said, outside the order's headquarters in Ascoli Piceno.

"I couldn't send a message like this to my family because I was afraid that my father would have an emotional collapse and die hearing something like that."

She said she eventually was rescued by a young man who cared for one of the elderly women at the home. "In that moment, I heard a voice who called me, 'Sister Marjana, Sister Marjana'."

He pulled her out. With the ground still shaking, she sat down on the side of the road and began texting her friends and sisters that she had survived.

That moment was captured in an image taken by a photographer for the ANSA news agency and published worldwide.

Lleshi spent much of Thursday getting medical checks for dust inhalation and her head wound, which required stitches. Once back home, she wept as she thought of her family.

She still hopes to travel to Rome for the September 4 canonisation of Mother Teresa, the Macedonian-born ethnic Albanian nun who ministered to the poor of India.

But the chaos and horror of the moment may be too much. Her order lost three sisters and four of the elderly women they cared for, alongside incalculable losses in the wider community.

"For me she's the symbol of Albania, of a strong woman," she said of Teresa. "I would have liked to go, but after this I don't think I can."

She can relish the simple fact of still being alive.

"I had said 'adieu'," she said, "and in the end it wasn't an adieu."

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