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Pope advances causes of nuns who died helping during Ebola outbreak


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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause of one of Princes William and Harry's 19th-century ancestors as well as the causes of three Italian nuns who died from the Ebola virus while ministering to patients in Congo.

The pope signed the decrees Feb. 20 during a meeting with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes. The Vatican published the decrees the same day.

Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtues of Passionist Father Ignatius Spencer, the great-great-great uncle of the late-Princess Diana, mother to Prince William, the second in the line of succession to the Britain's throne. Father Spencer had planned a career as an Anglican priest but became a Catholic shortly after practicing the faith was legalized in Britain in 1829. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1832 and died in Scotland in 1864.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of three members of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Poor: Sister Floralba Rondi, born in the province of Bergamo, Italy, in 1924; Sister Clarangela Ghilardi, born in 1931 also in the province of Bergamo; and Sister Dinarosa Belleri, born in the province of Brescia, Italy, in 1936.

The sisters were nurses and worked at a hospital in Kikwit in then-Zaire when an Ebola virus outbreak hit the city. A total of six Italian nuns were among the more than 250 victims of the outbreak in Kikwit in 1995.

Sister Rondi, who had spent 10 years at a leprosy treatment clinic near Kikwit, was the first to experience signs of an illness she thought was typhoid, and she went for treatment to Mosango, where she died April 25, 1995, at the age of 70.

Sister Ghilardi, who had been living in the country for nearly three decades, died several days later in Kikwit, at the age of 64, followed a week later by Sister Belleri, 58. The sainthood causes for the three other nuns who died in Kikwit in May 1995 are still at their initial stages.

Among the other decrees, the pope recognized a miracle needed for the beatification of Armida Barelli, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and the co-founder of the Secular Institute of the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ. She was born in Milan in 1882 and died in 1952 at the age of 69.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of:

-- Father Albino Alves da Cunha Silva, a diocesan priest born in 1882 in Portugal. He fled the anticlerical hostilities in Portugal following the 1910 revolution that overthrew the monarchy. Settling in Brazil, he founded a hospital, a clinic for the elderly and several schools. He died in Brazil in 1973.

-- Augustinian Sister Anna Clara Baseggio, also known as Sister Maria Felicita Fortunata, born in 1752 in Ferrara, Italy. She and her community were forced to leave their convent after Napoleon's invasion of Italy and the suppression of Italian religious orders. She sought to continue living a monastic life with relatives until her death in 1829.

-- Elisa Giambelluca, born in 1941 in Isnello, Italy. She was a member of the lay Teresian Association. She taught math and physics and was a high school principal. Her spiritual life left a deep impression on her family, friends, teachers and students. She died in Rome in 1986 at the age of 45.

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