Tunisia: missionary killed in library fire

Fr Gian-Battista Maffi

Fr Gian-Battista Maffi

Father Gian-Battista Maffi of the Missionaries of Africa, (also known as the White Fathers), died in a fire in the library of the Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes (Institute of Arabic Literature) in Tunis last Tuesday afternoon.

Fr Gerard Chabanon, Superior General of the White Fathers,  told MISNA Fr Maffi's body is to be being repatriated to Italy in the next few days after post-mortem examinations.

A letter sent Thursday by the priest's provincial, Father José Maria Cantal, stated that he arrived on the scene only minutes after the blast and found Father Maffi already lying dead on the floor amid the flames. He said police are currently investigating the scene of the fire.  Fr Jose said the tragedy was very hard on Fr Maffi's confreres, and especially difficult for his mother who is 87.  He praised the emergency services who were very supportive and stayed all night with the community.

A Mass for the Dead was celebrated on Saturday in the Cathedral of Tunis, presided by Bishop Maroun Lahham, concelebrated with local Catholic clergy. Fr Gerard said that besides Catholic friends and family present: “The Cathedral was crowded with many Muslims as a sign of their solidarity and friendship.” 

“About 60% of the library was destroyed by fire and water. For us and the locals the fire in the library, home to thousands of ancient and precious volumes, was a great loss for Arab culture and inter-cultural dialogue”.

Fr Gian-Battista Maffi, 54, from Mozzanica (Bergamo), was director of the library for two years. Ordained in 1984, Fr Maffi carried out his first mission in Mali, after training in Italy. He then worked for seven years as librarian at the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamistic Studies (PISAI) in Rome.

The Library founded in 1926 by the Missionaries of Africa, like the Christian-Islamic research centre  is situated in the popular neighbourhood of Makal Ezzam, near the Medina.

Source: MISNA

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