Colombian nuns with guns go free
By Jerry McDermott, Latin America correspondent
Two Colombian nuns who had shot dead an intruder in their cloistered convent were cleared of murder last week and allowed to return to their cloistered life.
The Sanctuary of the Virgin of Miracles Convent in the city of Tunja, north of the capital Bogota had already been robbed nine times, so the cloistered nuns organised a sentry roster, ensuring that two of their community of 28 were on duty every night. They had appealed to the army for help, and the reply had been the issue of .38 Smith and Wesson pistol, which the patrolling nuns carried with them.
Sisters Elva Maria Silva, 56 and Luz Adelia Barragan Jimenez, 55, heard a strange noise in the convent,s garden whilst they were on duty and fired six shots into the air to scare off any would-be intruder. Unfortunately the intruder was jumping over a wall at the time and caught two of the six bullets in the head and hand. He died soon afterwards.
"What happened was . . . a deplorable accident," Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro told reporters, explaining that the nuns felt helpless and had asked the army brigade stationed in the region for help.
Both women admitted taking turns in firing the revolver but insisted they were shooting into the dark after hearing strange noises in the convent garden.
The nuns were cleared of any crime since they had a firearms licence and were judged to have acted in self defence. They appeared on national television crying and insisting they were praying for the soul of the man they shot.
"I came here to consecrate my life to God and I will now continue to serve others. The convent is my house and my life," Sister Luz Barragan told reporters.
Police believe the thief was looking for the convent's priceless statue of the Miraculous Virgin, which has a crown and sceptre of solid gold.
UAfter seven years of engineering work, authorities say they have saved Mexico City's 300-year-old Metropolitan Cathedral, which had been in danger of collapse because it was sinking unevenly into soft soil.
Evidence of the heavy subsidence is still clear in the baroque cathedral, with columns shored up by metal supports, part of the £30 million rescue effort. The restorers are hoping to remove the last buttresses and supports before the turn of the millennium.
Engineers knew in the early 1600s, when the church was being built, that it was sinking to one side into the former lakebed upon which Mexico's capital is built. They inserted wedges of stone to level it, but they didn't know that the problem would only get worse.
The reason, engineers found in the early 1990s, was that one corner of the cathedral had been built on top of the remains of an Aztec pyramid destroyed by the Spaniards in 1521.
The pyramid's base provided solid foundations for one end of the church, while the other sank more rapidly, as much as three inches per year.
Using techniques developed to steady the leaning Tower of Pisa, engineers underpinned the Mexico City cathedral.
They dug deep vertical wells under the cathedral, then bored smaller horizontal tubes to the sides of the well and allowed them to collapse, basically lowering the high end of the massive edifice of the Cathedral.