Pope Says Missionaries of Charity ‘Gave Their Blood for the Church’

On Sunday, the Holy Father asked that Blessed Mother Teresa intercede in bringing peace to Yemen and elsewhere. He also reflected on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. On Saturday, Francis condemned the ‘diabolical violence’ that took the lives of the nuns.

The Missionaries of Charity who were killed in Yemen on March 4.
The Missionaries of Charity who were killed in Yemen on March 4. (photo: News.va Instagram)

VATICAN CITY — On Sunday, Pope Francis lamented the world’s indifference to the recent killing of four Missionaries of Charity, calling them the “martyrs of today” and asking that Blessed Mother Teresa intercede in bringing peace.

“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,” the Pope said March 6.

The sisters have been identified by the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia as Sisters Anselm from India, Margherite from Rwanda, Reginette from Rwanda and Judith from Kenya.

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,” he said.

Francis lamented 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.”

He prayed for the sisters and the other 12 people killed in the attack, as well as their families, 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.”

Pope Francis’ spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his March 6 Angelus address, just two days after a March 4 attack at a Missionaries of Charity convent and nursing home for the elderly and disabled persons in Aden, the provisional capital of Yemen, left 16 dead.

Four of the victims were sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the community founded by Blessed Mother Teresa. Other victims of the attack included volunteers at the home, at least five of whom were Ethiopian. Many were Yemenis. The nursing home had around 80 residents, who were unharmed.

Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest from India who had been staying with the sisters since his church was attacked and burned last September, has been missing since the attack, Agenzia Fides reports. Sources close to CNA say the priest was abducted from the convent chapel.


Violence Condemned

On Saturday, Pope Francis condemned the “diabolical violence” of Friday’s deadly attack.

“His Holiness Pope Francis was shocked and profoundly saddened to learn of the killing of four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others at a home for the elderly in Aden,” reads the telegram, released Saturday and signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The Pope “sends the assurance of his prayers for the dead and his spiritual closeness to their families and to all affected from this act of senseless and diabolical violence,” the message reads.

“He prays 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.”

Pope Francis called for those involved in the nation’s ongoing conflict “to renounce violence and to renew their commitment to the people of Yemen, particularly those most in need,” who the Missionaries of Charity and collaborators “sought to serve.”

“Upon everyone suffering from this violence, the Holy Father invokes God’s blessing, and in a special ways, he extends to the Missionaries of Charity his prayerful sympathy and solidarity.”

A March 4 statement from the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia stated that Bishop Paul Hinder has “expressed his shock at the incident and prayed that the Lord may accept the sacrifice of these sisters and convert it into a sacrifice for peace.”

 “For me, there is no doubt that the sisters have been victims of hatred: hatred against our faith,” Bishop Hinder told CNA on March 6.

“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,” he said, pointing to one of the prayers they recited daily.

The short prayer asks, “Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward.”

Recited after their morning Mass and before breakfast, the prayer is one of the last that the sisters would have prayed before being killed.

The bishop believes the sisters were a target because certain radical groups in the country “simply do not support the presence of Christians who serve the poorest of the poor.”

While so far no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, it is believed that it was carried out by members of either al-Qaida or ISIS.

He said the majority of the people in Yemen appreciate the presence of the Missionaries of Charity as well as their “dedicated service” to the poor.

The bishop reiterated that “there is no reason for such an act unless people, who deliberately or not knowingly, are the devil's agents.”

Bishop Hinder said the attack on the Missionaries of Charity convent is proof that the war in the country rages on, despite all attempts for negotiation.

“There are groups, especially in Aden region, who are not under control of the regular government and try to destabilize the country and to terrorize the people,” he said, noting that the few remaining Catholics will soon “have no other choice than to remain as discreet as possible” and try to wait for peace to be reinstalled.

The bishop said that currently it is “impossible” to give an exact number of the Catholics left in Yemen because the war makes it difficult to obtain reliable statistics.

Many of the Catholics who haven’t left the country could be working in hospitals, but are unable able to reach their places of worship, which at present “are working only in a reduced way,” he said.

He blamed this on “the nationwide insecurity,” adding that, before the war, he the estimated number of Catholics that he sent to Rome was 4,000 in all of Yemen.

However, Bishop Hinder said that he is sure “that, in the meantime, the number has essentially dropped.”

Although the effects won’t be seen immediately, the bishop said that both the sisters’ sacrifice as well as our prayers “will work.”

“As Christians, we believe that Golgotha is not the end, but the risen Lord, who will have the final word at the Last Judgment.”

The bishop also said that he currently has no information on the whereabouts of Father Uzhunnalil.  The secretary of the Province of Bangalore, Father Valarkote Matthew, said in a March 6 communique that it seems as if Father Uzhunnalil “was taken away.”

Father Cereda expressed his hope that Father Uzhunnalil “can be among us quickly and continue the precious service he held at his mission; our remembrance is for the four Missionaries of Charity.”


Mercy of God

In his March 6 Angelus address, Pope Francis pointed to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which was recounted in the day’s Gospel from Luke. A better name for the parable could be “The Merciful Father,” the Pope said, noting how the father in the passage is “a man always ready to forgive and who hopes against all hope.”

In tolerating the younger son’s decision to leave home when he could have easily opposed, the father is respecting his son’s freedom, as God does with us, Francis explained.

“God lets us be free, even to make mistakes, because, in creating us, he gave us the great gift of freedom,” he said.

However, the father continues to carry the younger son in his heart, “faithfully awaiting his return,” Francis said, explaining that the father has the same attitude of tenderness toward his older son.

He reminds the older son not only of how they have been together and what they have in common, but he also expresses the need for the older son to welcome his brother with joy.

Francis then pointed to a third, “hidden son” in the parable, describing him as the one who “did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”

This “Servant-Son,” Jesus, is the extension of God’s hand and heart, the Pope said, explaining that he is the one who welcomed the Prodigal Son, prepared his “banquet of forgiveness” and taught us to be merciful like the father.

Turning to the image of the father in the parable, Pope Francis said that he reveals the heart of God and shows us “the merciful Father, who, in Jesus, loves us beyond all measure, always waiting for our conversion each time we err.”

Just like the father in the parable, God continues to consider us his children even when we are lost, the Pope said, explaining that even the most serious mistakes we make “don’t scratch [away] the fidelity of his love.”

Confession, he said, is our opportunity to start again and is the place where God welcomes us and “restores to us the dignity of his children.”

Pope Francis closed his address with an appeal to intensify the path of interior conversion throughout the rest of Lent.

“Let us allow ourselves to be reached by the gaze of our Father, full of love, and return to him with our whole hearts, rejecting any compromise with sin,” he said.

 After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, Francis gave a shout-out to the new pilot program “Humanitarian Corridors,” aimed at helping refugees.

An joint-ecumenical initiative of the Sant’Egidio Community, the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, the Italian government and the Waldensian and Methodist churches, the projects provides aid and safe passage to those fleeing war and violence.

The first 100 out of the 1,000 refugees, from camps in Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia, have already transferred to Italy. Among them are sick children, disabled persons, elderly and widows of war with children.