Hope for the rise of mercy in Yemen

The gruesome murder of four Missionaries of Charity nuns, together with 12 other people in Aden, Yemen, by unnamed assailants only points to the fact that the world we call our own is fast becoming a dangerous place for us to live. We may tag the assailants by any name, but ultimately, they are all flesh-and-blood human beings.

If we turn the pages of history, we realize that such horrendous killings are not new to Yemen, which during recent years has been witnessing decimation of minorities.

The Missionaries of Charity did not find it easy to enter the primarily Muslim nation, and it was merely the divine hand that led Mother Teresa to pitch a tent to tend the sick and the suffering of Yemen. She was placing her sisters on the frontiers of battle, knowing that is how she and her sisters would be able to satiate the thirst of Jesus for love and for souls.

When three of the Missionaries of Charity nuns were gunned down in a port city in Yemen in 1998, the year after Mother Teresa died, the terrorists made it loud and clear that Yemen is no place for missionaries to preach mercy and love. What the militants preached was the law of the land, which was steeped in blood and violence, and the innocent people lived in constant fear of death.

The Missionaries of Charity are the uncrowned global ambassadors of mercy, long before Pope Francis declared the current year as the Holy Year of Mercy.

The Home for the Aged in Aden was a remaining Christian presence in a country where even fractions within Islam are not tolerated. The handful of Christians who lived in Yemen had fled when the militants had made it clear that they were going to cleanse the nation of "bad blood."

The Missionaries of Charity were not unaware of the destruction of the only church they had nearby, and they too heard threats given to them directly and indirectly. But the sisters heard something louder than this, the call of their Master: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).

These are the friends who had no feet to run away with from place to place for fear of gunshots, who had none to speak for them, who had no one to feed them even a single meal, who had none to care for them when they are terminally ill, who just cannot move away from the place because they have nowhere to flee.

The Missionaries of Charity all over the world are storming heaven with their prayers for the slain sisters — Sr. Anselm from India, Sr. Margherite and Sr. Reginette from Rwanda, and Sr. Judith from Kenya — and for their chaplain, Salesian Fr. Tomy Uzhunnalil, who is said to be missing. One only hopes that he does not meet with the same fate as Jesuit Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar, who spent 265 days in the custody of Taliban in Afghanistan and tasted freedom at the intervention of the Indian government.

The newspapers included only a single column of news of the gruesome killings of 16 people in some inside page, or the place of a "filler." Except among Christian religious circles, no one seemed to be much bothered about this brutal killing. Perhaps Christian news on the Internet was quick to mention the killings, but the response of the global community has been by and large neutral.

Pope Francis was quick to acknowledge in his Sunday Angelus on March 6 that the four nuns killed in the "diabolical violence" are "today's martyrs."

"They aren't on the front pages of the newspapers; they aren't news," the pope said. "These people are victims of an attack by those who killed them, but they are also victims of indifference, of this globalization of indifference."

One tends to believe that our senses are slowly becoming numb, and we are no longer shocked by brutal killings in front of our eyes. We take them as the new way things are. No wonder, then, that when the so-called custodians of law take law in their hands and treat the voiceless peasants as dispensable, no one dares to raise one's voice, for fear one may have to bear the brunt.

"Save your skins" seems to be the magic mantra the world teaches every one of us, and the faster you run, the safer you are. This is the tagline imprinted on the hearts and minds of so many of the world's children. Unfortunately, we have taught our them to run faster to escape, but we have forgotten that they are facing blind alleys and dead ends.

The four sisters who have been martyred along with 12 others will not see a Yemen where mercy has a place, where differences in religious beliefs may be seen as an occasion for mutual enrichment, where those who have dedicated their lives to serve God and humanity are revered and respected.

But one can be sure that the dormant volcano that is the Christian presence in Yemen is slowly waking up from its long years of sleep to feel the pressure mounting, and it will not be long before it breaks forth to bring an end to the reign of terror, unleashed in the name of religion, caste, creed and ethnicity.

That may be the moment when humanity may once again take another U-turn to march toward the new heaven and new Earth, what Christians call the Kingdom of God, or what Hindus might call the Ram-Rajya.

[Julian S. Das is a Jesuit priest, former editor of the Kolkata-based The Herald, and director of Chitrabani media center. He is currently the acting socius to the Jesuit provincial of Calcutta. This article is part of a collaboration between GSR and Matters India, a news portal started in March 2013 to focus on religious and social issues in India.]

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