Four Catholic nuns from the late Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity were among 16 victims killed by six unidentified gunmen at a home for the elderly in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden.
The March 4 attack occurred when armed assailants stormed the facility, located in Aden’s Sheikh Othman district.
The intruders reportedly gained entrance to the care home by telling the security guard one of them had come to visit his mother. While two militants stood guard outside, the other four pushed inside, killing four guards and other employees, including several nurses, cleaning staff and a Yemeni cook. The four missionary nurses were serving breakfast to the home’s 80 elderly at the time of the attack. All the victims had been handcuffed and then shot in the head.
None of the residents of the nursing home were harmed. A fifth nun, Sr. Sari, managed to hide undetected in a storeroom refrigerator, and an Indian priest living at the facility remains missing and believed kidnapped by the gunmen. Originally from the Indian state of Kerala, the priest, Fr. Uzhummanil, 57, had lived in Yemen for the past five years. After Aden’s Holy Family Church where he served was attacked and torched last September, he had moved to the care home.
“Yemen is a conflict zone. We do not have an embassy there. But we will spare no efforts to rescue Father Tom Uzhummanil,” said Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj via Twitter. The foreign minister also confirmed that Sr. Sari had been moved to a safe location and was “being evacuated” from Yemen.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia was originally accused, but denied responsibility. “This is not our operation, and it is not our way of fight,” they told Arabic media sources. On Mar. 6, Yemeni security officials blamed the attack on militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and accused them of seizing Fr. Uzhummanil during the raid.
Militants of both Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State militants have exploited the chaos and lawlessness prevailing nationwide since Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2014, and Christians in Yemen have been severely affected by it. According to the United Nations, more than 6,000 people have been killed and 2.4 million people displaced in the fighting between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the north and the Saudi-backed government in the south.
“We knew that the situation was difficult and that the sisters were running a certain risk,” Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of the Arabian Peninsula, said after the attack. “The Missionaries of Charity died as martyrs,” he told Catholic News Agency. “For me there is no doubt that the sisters have been victims of hatred—hatred against our faith.” He said he believes they were targeted because certain radical groups in Yemen “simply do not support the presence of Christians who serve the poorest of the poor.”
But the bishop stressed that this violent Islamist attitude “obviously goes against the mainstream thought of the Yemeni people, the majority of whom appreciate the presence of the Missionaries of Charity as well as their dedicated service to the poor.” Four of Mother Teresa’s convents were set up in Yemen at the invitation of the then northern government in 1973. The Catholic sisters still serving in these convents in Hodeidah, Taiz, Sanaa and Aden care for mentally and physically challenged children and elderly people.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Thank You, Father, for these women who have served the poor in Your name. We join their families and those whom they served in grieving their loss, and that of the others who died beside them. Comfort those who remain and build their faith, replacing the fear that must surely grip them each day with Your love, and grant them the wisdom and courage to serve You in the midst of opposition. The hatred that triggered the attack against them was ultimately an attack against You, against Christ and His church. The gospel has gone forth in Yemen in many ways, quietly in servanthood and humble relationships. We pray that Your Holy Spirit will take the Word preached and use it to bring about a powerful work among the Yemeni people, and that Your church might raise a mighty voice of praise to You. In the name of Jesus, who hears and responds to the cry of the poor and needy, Amen.