Southern Africa bishops condemn murder of elderly nun from Austria

The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference condemned the murder of an elderly nun who was found bound in her room at a convent in Ixopo, South Africa.

Sr. Stephanie Tiefenbacher, 86, a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood and an Austrian national, was discovered by another sister early April 19. Her hands were bound with a cord from an electric typewriter and her face was covered with a wet towel, police said.

"She was alone in her room when the robber struck, tied her up and robbed her of cash," said a statement released by Father S'milo Mngadi, communications officer for the bishops' conference.

The conference called the death of the nun who worked with poor children in the community shocking.

"The churches and, especially, the convents have always been centers of hope for our communities as they minister through education, health, charity and other social services," the statement said. "For a person just to break into a convent is despicable to say the least and violating the dignity of an elderly nun is evil and barbaric."

The bishops called on police to act quickly to apprehend suspects in the case and urged residents in the small town in the eastern part of the country to share information to help solve the case.

"We pray for the Precious Blood sisters, her family back in Austria and the community of Ixopo, including the Little Flower School which she served for over 60 years," the church leaders said.

Sisters at the convent described Tiefenbacher as having a kind heart and a love for children, reported the Catholic News Agency for Africa.

"She has been in the mission for 60 years. She was a very generous and open person with a big, big heart for the people, especially the children," said Sister Gerald, a fellow Precious Blood sister.

The bishops' conference April 16 called on faith and other communities to use their influence to stop xenophobic violence and urged help for its victims.

Attacks on foreign nationals have left at least seven people dead, more than 5,000 displaced, and shops looted and razed. The attacks started in Durban in early April and spread to other parts of the country.