Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, after four of their sisters were killed in Aden, the port city of Yemen, on March 4. Departing from his prepared text during the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, he hailed these sisters who were caring for the elderly in this war-stricken land as “martyrs of our day,” adding, “They were killed by their attackers, but also by the globalization of indifference.”
His words about “the globalization of indifference” are understood to refer not only to the general indifference to the attacks on Christians in this region but also to the great indifference of the international community to the yearlong civil war in this impoverished country, which has brought it to the brink of catastrophe. The previous day he expressed the hope that “this pointless slaughter will awaken consciences, lead to a change of heart and inspire all parties to lay down their arms and take up the path of dialogue.”
One of the martyred sisters, Sister Anselm, was from India; the other three were from Africa: Sisters Margherite and Reginette from Rwanda and Sister Judith from Kenya. “Their names do not appear on the front page of the newspapers, but they gave their blood for the church,” Francis said. “I pray for them and for the other persons killed in the attack and for their family members,” he added. He prayed that Mother Teresa—whom he will declare a saint in September—“may accompany into paradise these daughters, martyrs of charity, and intercede for peace and the sacred respect of human life.”
The Vatican said Pope Francis was “shocked and profoundly saddened” by the murder of the four members of the Missionaries of Charity and at least 12 other people at a retirement home for the elderly (80 of whom lived there) run by the sisters in Aden, on March 4. Gunmen had gone from room to room, handcuffing victims before shooting them in the head. Medical sources told Al Jazeera that the other victims included four local nurses, four security guards and three cleaning staff workers.
On March 5, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, issued a strong appeal from Pope Francis for an end to the ongoing violence in Yemen, saying that “in the name of God, he calls upon all parties in the present conflict to renounce violence and to renew their commitment to the people of Yemen, particularly those most in need, whom the sisters and their helpers sought to serve.”
The only Catholic priest in Aden, the Rev. Thomas Uzhunnali of Kerala, India, was living with the sisters at the time of the attack because his parish residence had been destroyed last September. He was praying in the chapel of the retirement home when the killers arrived and was taken away by them, according to the mother superior of the community, who, press reports say, managed to hide and so avoided being killed in the attack. It is not known what happened to him.
Already the poorest country in the Arab world, Yemen is now facing catastrophe, according to the United Nations: 21.2 million people need some form of humanitarian assistance, around 6,000 people have been killed, and 2.4 million people have been displaced from their homes. Human rights organizations say both sides are responsible for atrocities in this impoverished but strategically important land, where the tussle for power has serious implications for the region and the security of the West.