YEMEN – Nuns killed in terrorist attack on retirement home


Four nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, were killed last Friday in the city of Aden, Yemen. They were: Sr. Anslem from Ranchi, India who would have turned 60 years old on 8 May;  Sr. Judith from Kenya who was 41 years old; Sr. Marguerite from Rwanda who would have been 44 years old on 29 April. The youngest nun, Sr. Reginette aged 32, was from Rwanda. The terrorist attack was attributed to an affiliate of Islamic State although as yet no claim has been made.

A group of heavily armed men attacked the retirement home in the district of Sheikh Osman where the nuns took care of the elderly and disabled. After killing the security guard, the terrorists entered the nuns’ house. The terrorists then separated the Sisters from other people in the building and, after handcuffing the elderly and the sick, opened fire.

At least sixteen people were killed in the attack including the Sisters, the security guard, eight elderly residents, two Yemeni women, and Ethiopian volunteers working at the home. Eighty  elderly and disabled residents and the superior of the convent survived the attack. An Indian Salesian priest, Uzhunnalil Tom, who lived in the convent with the Sisters after the church of the Holy Family in Aden was sacked and burned by unidentified armed men in September, was abducted by the assailants while he was praying in the chapel.

Since the attack, the Missionaries of Charity’s nursing home has been relying on the aid of volunteers, students and government support to continue caring for the elderly, as it has done for 24 years in Aden.

“They died as martyrs”

Bishop Paul Hinder who oversees the region as apostolic vicar of the Arabian Peninsula said he was certain that “The Missionaries of Charity died as martyrs: as martyrs of charity, as martyrs because they witnessed Christ and shared the lot of Jesus on the Cross.”

Speaking from his headquarters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, he declared “For me there is no doubt that the Sisters have been victims of hatred – hatred against our faith.” Although Bishop Hinder did not wish to go into the reasons“for an unreasonable act,” it would be difficult not to see that the event was motivated by “a misled religious mind.” He believes the Sisters were targeted because certain radical groups in the country “simply do not support the presence of Christians who serve the poorest of the poor.” There are groups, especially in the Aden region, who are not under control of the regular government and try to destabilize the country by terrorising the people.

Bishop Hinder said the attitude of the killers goes does not reflect the attitude of the Yemen people, the majority of whom appreciate the presence of the Missionaries of Charity as well as their “dedicated service” to the poor.

Collateral victims of the war between Sunnis and Shiites, most expatriate Christians left Yemen because of the violence and the risk of kidnapping. The few remaining Christians are forced to live their faith discretely and can only meet secretly. Last September, Mgr Hinder paid tribute to those religious who despite threats of war remained in the country and continued to care for people with disabilities, like the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa. He said that that it was impossible to give an exact number of Catholics left in Yemen because the war makes it difficult to obtain reliable statistics. Many of them could be working in hospitals  but are unable able to attend places of worship which at present “are working only in a reduced way”. The bishop added the few remaining Catholics “have no other choice than to remain as discreet as possible” and try to wait for peace to be reinstalled.

Pope condemns the world’s indifference to the attack                

In his condolence telegram, Pope Francis says “I express my closeness to the Missionaries of Charity for the great loss that affected them two days ago with the killing of four religious in Aden, Yemen, where they assisted the elderly”.  He condemned the terrorist attack, saying he prayed for the Sisters and other victims as well as their families.  The Pope expressed his spiritual closeness to “ those affected by this senseless act of violence and evil”, asking that Mother Teresa would accompany her “martyr daughters of charity” in paradise, and intercede in obtaining peace “and the sacred respect of human life.”

He lamented the world’s indifference to the recent killing stating that the Sisters are not only the victims of their killers, but “also of the indifference of this globalization of indifference, which doesn’t care.” The Pope declared that the Sisters who were killed “are the martyrs of today…they gave their blood for the Church, (yet) they are not in the papers, they are not news”.

The Holy Father hoped that “this unnecessary carnage will awaken consciences, it will lead to a conversion of hearts and push the parties involved in the conflict to renounce violence.”

ACN Malta