Sister Marjana Lleshi awoke in the early hours of Wednesday morning to the violent shaking of the 6.2 magnitude earthquake that killed 250 people, devastating several towns in central Italy.
Wounded and trapped under her bed as her convent in Amatrice crumbled
to the ground around her, Sr. Lleshi thought for sure that death was
imminent, and began sending messages to loved ones telling them goodbye.
However, just when her hope had run out and she was ready to let go,
she heard the voice of Louis, a young Columbian caregiver assisting at
their home for the elderly, calling out for anyone who might still be
alive – a voice she refers to as her “angel” from God.
“I looked around and saw everything was crumbling,” Sr. Lleshi said
in an Aug. 25 interview with SIR, the official news agency of the
She said she had woken up about 30 minutes after the initial shock
from the earthquake around 3:30 a.m., and saw rubble falling around her
as she came to her senses.
“I had a cut on my head and I asked for help. I looked toward the
street, where people were lost and confused,” she said, but “no one
responded to me.”
As the building continued to crumble, Sr. Lleshi said she had just
enough time to grab a sweater and her veil before taking refuge under
her bed, where she decided to stay until help arrived.
“It was at that point that I resigned myself,” she said. “I asked for
help in vain. So I began to send messages to loved ones warning that
there was an earthquake, that there was no longer hope, that I would die
and that it was farewell.”
Though she tried to hold on to her will to live, the nun said she
lost hope when no one came, and began to think about those dear to her
and the choices she had made in life.
“I retraced my life and saw that the choice to offer it for others
was the only one I wanted to make,” she said, noting that “it was
precisely in that moment that I heard the voice of the young man calling
me, and in that voice I heard the voice of God, who was calling me to
Sr. Lleshi, 35 and originally from Albania, is a religious sister of
the Handmaids of the Lord. She had been living in the community's house
in Amatrice, one of the towns hardest hit by the 6.2-magnitude
earthquake that tore through central Italy early Wednesday morning,
killing 250 people.
The epicenter of the quake hit the town of Norcia, about 65 miles
northeast of Rome, at 3:36 a.m. with several aftershocks following.
According to the BBC, after the tremors stopped the mayor of Amatrice
said “half the town is gone.”
Rescue efforts are still underway to free
anyone who might still be alive, and to search for the bodies of those
who were buried under the rubble.
Sr. Lleshi quickly became the face of the quake's destruction when a
photo taken by Italian news agency Ansa began to circulate on social
media, depicting the nun sitting on the side of the road with a bloodied
face and veil.
There were 15 people in total staying at the convent at the time of
the quake, including the elderly the sisters attended. Of them, four
elderly and three sisters have died – their bodies remain buried in the
The convent and home for the elderly was located at the entrance of
Amatrice and, like the rest of the historic center, was completely
destroyed by the earthquake.
Sr. Lleshi told SIR that when Louis finally came to look for
survivors, he picked her up and began leading her to safety when they
heard the cries of two other sisters.
“Among the rubble I heard one of our sisters asking for help. While
we tried to understand where the voice was coming from, we heard another
sister complaining because she couldn’t breathe and her legs were
blocked,” she said.
In the end the Sr. Lleshi and Louis couldn't move the rubble in order
to rescue the other sisters, so they waited beside them until the
rescue workers arrived.
The two sisters were sent to the hospital in neighboring Rieti, where
they are currently recovering. Sr. Lleshi, however, is currently
staying in Ascoli Piceno, where she was treated and kept under medical
Referring to Louis, Sr. Lleshi said he was “the angel that God sent
when I thought I would die and when everything around me was crumbling.
It was leveled to the ground and I was like the tip of an inverted cone
in the midst of the rubble of crumbs.”
The nun said she doesn't know why God spared her, only that “I saw a God who, in the midst of death, gave life.”
“Thinking of the sisters who are still under the rubble, I have to
say that I am no holier than them. So I ask myself, why was I saved and
not them?” she said, tearing up.
She noted that “many families are destroyed” and that many people,
including Louis, have risked their lives trying save people who could
still be alive.
When asked if hope can be found in “angels” like Louis and the rescue
workers, Sr. Lleshi said religion doesn’t have anything to do with it,
because “we men were made to love and to help others.”
Tragedies such as the earthquake, she said, “reveal what man is
regardless of his religion, of his culture, of the goodness of the
person itself. Take me. I am no better than the people who didn’t make
it. I was saved. Why?”
“Asking me now is useless,” she said, “because I will never have an
answer. But sooner or later I will understand, God willing, what he
wants of me.”