The Vatican Monday mourned the brutal murders of three elderly Italian nuns in their convent in Burundi in two separate attacks.
According to reports on the Italian state wire agency ANSA, the three missionaries were raped and had their throats slit. One was reportedly decapitated
The bodies of two nuns, Sister Olga Raschietti, 75, and Lucia Pulicin, 82, were found Sunday afternoon by a third nun, Sister Bernadetta Boggian, 79. She was then later raped and decapitated following a second overnight attack on the premises, according to reports by the Italian missionary news agency Misna.
The Saverian missionary superior in the east African nation, the Rev. Mario Pulcini, told Misna that during the night, other nuns telephoned to say they feared the attacker was still in the convent. When help arrived, the nun who had found the first two victims was herself found slain, Pulcini said.
A botched robbery attempt was an early theory for the attack, but was reportedly dismissed because nothing appeared to have been stolen.
In a telegram to the the nuns' superior, Pope Francis said he hoped that their spilled blood "may become the seed of hope to build true fraternity between peoples."
A Burundi convent employee was also murdered during the attack.
The Italian nuns had spent the last seven years helping the poor and sick in their convent in Kamenge, a district north of Burundi's capital Bujumbura that has long been a hotspot of ethnic violence, ANSA reported.
Over 60% or people in Burundi are Catholics and it is described as one of the five poorest countries in the world.
Tensions have recently increased in the eastern African country, which is still reeling from a 1993-2006 civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups.