On March 4, two militant gunmen attacked a convent and nursing home in Aden, Yemen, run by the Missionaries of Charity (founded by Blessed Teresa of Kolkata). Among the 16 victims, all of whom had been handcuffed and mercilessly shot in the head, were four nuns. Pope Francis condemned the attack upon these Missionaries of Charity, whom he said “gave their blood for the Church.”
Prior to their martyrdom, Sister Anselm, Sister Judith, Sister Marguerite and Sister Reginette had worked alongside local volunteers to serve those who lived in the nursing home: typically, between 60 and 80 disabled and/or elderly residents, all of whom belonged to various religions.
In remarks provided to Catholic News Agency, Bishop Paul Hinder of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia (which includes Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen) asserted that, “For me there is no doubt that the sisters have been victims of hatred — hatred against our faith. The Missionaries of Charity died as martyrs of charity, as martyrs because they witnessed Christ and shared the lot of Jesus on the cross.”
What more opportune time than Lent for us to focus on the ultimate reason that these four courageous women were killed: because they had laid aside their own wills in order to do God’s work, just as Jesus himself had done as he underwent his passion and crucifixion. Just as Jesus’ will was united with the Father’s, so too were these four Missionaries of Charity, members of a religious congregation known for their material asceticism and personal humility, allowing God to work through them, daily living out the words of John 3:30, “He must increase; I must decrease.”
These four women had left their homelands in order to travel to a different part of the world — a volatile and perilous one at that — in order to bring the Gospel into the lives of those whom they served. They did not seek temporal success, fame, glory, prosperity or comfort. They were serving the Lord, and thereby serving the truth, and this was just as unacceptable and intolerable to their eventual oppressors as it has been throughout the course of salvation history, as the Lord reminds us toward the conclusion of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5:10-12).
During their earthly lives, Sister Anselm, Sister Judith, Sister Marguerite and Sister Reginette lived for the truth, and they were, on March 4, to die for the truth. We will probably never know precisely what they were thinking during their final moments, but with their very lives of Christian charity, they had been Christ to others, acknowledging him by how they served others, with eternal rewards: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly father” (Mt 10:32).
During Lent and beyond, we must admire these four nuns for the fortitude with which they responded to their vocation to serve the Lord — a calling that was fraught with suffering for the Lord, hardly the least of which was them ultimately giving their lives as a testimony to their commitment to living authentically. This is in accord with what Jesus promises regarding what his followers must be willing to face — not merely occasionally, or infrequently, but every day: “If anyone wishes to follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).
In light of this Year of Mercy, it would be useless to lament the taking of the lives of these four Missionaries of Charity without acknowledging two other points. First, we can safely speculate that as the reward for them giving their lives for the Lord, they are now in his presence for all eternity. Second, we can likewise securely affirm that, from the vantage point of paradise, they are now interceding for the repentance of those who took their lives, as well as for the conversion of the hearts of those who otherwise do not presently know God’s love, and we must join them in praying for an outpouring of the peace that the world cannot give (cf. Jn 14:27), thereby “not [letting our] hearts be troubled or afraid.”
Justin McClain writes from Maryland.