Irene Stefani beatification draws Kenyan crowds

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Catholic bishops attend the beatification ceremony in Nyeri, 23 MayImage source, AFP
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Catholic bishops attend the beatification ceremony in Nyeri

Tens of thousands of Catholic pilgrims have attended the beatification in the Kenyan town of Nyeri of Italian-born nun Irene Stefani.

Sister Stefani went to Kenya in 1915 and worked as a nurse at British military hospitals during WW1.

She then settled near Nyeri where she was known as "Nyaatha", meaning "mother of mercy" in the Kikuyu language.

Nyeri has held three days of beatification ceremonies, taking the nun a step closer to becoming a saint.

Tanzanian Cardinal Polycarp Pengo on Saturday read a letter of beatification in Latin from Pope Francis, declaring that the sister "from now on will be called Blessed".

Kenya's Daily Nation said up to 100,000 people were in attendance, with millions more watching on live television.

The BBC's Anne Soy in Nyeri says there was great activity in the town, with roads painted and street lights fixed, ahead of the influx of visitors.

The ceremonies began with a Mass and vigil on Friday afternoon, she says.

Pope Francis did not attend Saturday's beatification Mass.

Image source, Reuters
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Gabriella Guerini, a family member of Sister Stefani, attends in Nyeri
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There was a rush to get the town ready for the thousands of Catholic pilgrims
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Sister Irene Stefani's remains are currently at the Mathari Memorial Chapel

Sister Stefani died in 1930 at the age of 39.

On Sunday, her remains, which were exhumed in 1995, are to be taken from the Mathari Memorial Chapel to a new tomb at Nyeri Cathedral.

British military officers will oversee the burial as a mark of respect for her work treating soldiers in Kenya and Tanzania during World War One, our reporter says.

For a person to be beatified, there must be verification that a miracle has occurred as a result of people praying to the beatification candidate after they have died.

In 1989 almost 300 people who were taking refuge in a church during Mozambique's civil war prayed to the nun and much-needed water was said to have appeared in the font at Nipepe church.

"It was enough for all of them to drink, to refresh themselves and even to bath a baby girl who was born in that occasion," the Irene Stefani website says.

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