THE Pope has condemned the murder of four Roman Catholic nuns in Yemen, and criticised the international community for being indifferent to their fate.
Four Missionaries of Charity, with 12 other people, were shot dead in a care home for the elderly in the southern port city of Aden. Two gunmen stood guard outside while four others went inside the Mother Teresa Home, handcuffing their victims before shooting them in the head. An Indian priest, Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, was kidnapped. The superior survived by hiding from the gunmen.
A Vatican spokesman said that Pope Francis had been “shocked and profoundly saddened” by the killings, and was praying 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.”
In his Sunday message to worshippers in St Peter’s Square, the Pope described the murdered nuns as “today’s martyrs”. While they did not make the front pages of the newspapers, “they have given their blood for the Church.” The nuns, he said, were victims both of physical attacks and “of indifference, of this globalisation of indifference. They don’t matter.”
The Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis, in a statement, said that the Mother Teresa Home provided shelter for up to 80 old people, “many found destitute on the streets” of Aden. The four murdered nuns came from India, Kenya, and Rwanda, but Yemenis and Ethiopians had also been killed in the attack. Bishop Lewis believes that the killers “are from the pernicious ultra-fundamentalist fanatical puritan strand of Islam that encompasses IS [Islamic State] or Daesh, and takes inspiration from the Wahhabi sect. Their actions will be met with revulsion by true Muslims, especially native Adenis, whose respect for the works of charity and service by Christians in their city is great.”
The windows of Christ Church, Aden, were broken during fighting in the city last year, but it has not been directly attacked. The associated Ras Morbat eye clinic is still treating patients.
The murder of the nuns comes against the background of the war in Yemen, as government forces and tribes loyal to them seek to defeat the Shia Houthis and elements of the army backing them (News, 1 January). The government is being assisted by Saudi air strikes, which began in March last year.
The Saudi-led Arab military campaign, Operation Decisive Storm, was launched with a fanfare of publicity. A string of successful air strikes in the opening days appeared to indicate that the operation would indeed be short and decisive.
One month later, as Saudi Arabia boasted that all Houthi threats to the kingdom had been eliminated, Decisive Storm was replaced by Operation Restoring Hope, suggesting that victory and the rebuilding of Yemen were imminent. The war has been stuck ever since at this inconclusive stage.
The Saudi involvement was in response to the Houthis’ capturing Aden. By the end of July 2015, government forces, helped by units from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, had retaken the city. The Yemeni government, having been forced out of the capital, Sanaa, and then Aden, has in theory began operating again out of the latter. But, in practice, Aden remains lawless, with Islamic State and al-Qaida gunmen at large.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s 14 million inhabitants face mounting hardship in one of the poorest countries in the world. Reports from the UN suggest that some 9000 civilians have been killed in the past year alone. Many thousands more have been wounded. All diplomatic efforts to end the war have failed, and it is difficult to imagine how this conflict, which neither side appears able to win or lose, will be brought to an end.
The Houthis and their allies still control Sana’a, and government forces have been trying unsuccessfully for months, despite intensive air strikes, to recapture Taiz, a city just over 100 miles north of Aden.
Even if Taiz and eventually Sana’a were brought back into government hands, defeating the Houthis in their mountainous homeland in northern Yemen would still be an enormous challenge.