Only sister to survive Yemen attack: despite danger, 'we chose to stay'

CNA Sister Sally Sister Sally speaks at the Jubilee for Workers of Mercy and Volunteers. | L'Osservatore Romano.

A year before a March 4 attack killed four sisters, the Missionaries of Charity opted not to leave, but to remain with their patients in the war-torn country of Yemen, the sole survivor said on Saturday.

"In the midst of this dangerous situation, our dearest Sr. Prema, MC, general superior, called us from Calcutta and spoke to us individually. She gave us a choice to remain or leave the place," Sr. Sally shared at an event in St. Peter's Square Sept. 3.

"All of us had one answer: 'we choose to stay, to live or die with our poor.'"

On March 4, 2016, the Missionaries of Charity's care home center in Aden, Yemen was attacked by two gunmen, who killed Sr. Anselm, Sr. Judith, Sr. Marguerite, and Sr. Reginette, along with 16 other victims, including volunteers from Ethiopia and Yemen. Sr. Sally, the convent's superior, was able to escape.

None of the center's 60-80 residents were harmed.  

Sr. Sally said that even in March 2015, a year before the attack, the situation in Yemen was very dangerous with "shooting and bombing everywhere."

"We had 64 residents, 14 helpers, 5 sisters, and we had no food. We found ourselves in an utterly helpless situation."

On the evening of the 30th of March, and in the pitch dark because they had no electricity, the sisters heard a knock on their door. Filled with "fear and anxiety," they answered it to find that someone had brought them fruits and vegetables. "God works with us in our daily living. We believed it and we experienced it," Sr. Sally said.

Again, they ran out of food, as well as other basic necessities, such as gas and water. They chopped down nearby trees for firewood. And this time, again, a man showed up at their door with enough fresh bread for everyone. "For 10 days he never failed to bring the bread," she said.

In the midst of this danger and these difficulties is when the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, Sr. Prema, gave the sisters the option to leave, but they all chose to remain in Yemen with the poor.

"It is the fruit of our daily prayer," said the sister: "We implore you, absorb our minds, that we may die through love of you who were graciously pleased to die through love of us."

Sr. Sally said that the sisters pray daily for the grace to resign themselves to the will of God. She told of another time when the sisters ran out of medicine for their patients. The sister superior knocked at the door of the tabernacle and "told Jesus, 'You are the master of this house, do something.'" That very afternoon a man brought the medicine they needed.

When they ran out of water, "again the Providence of God: a truck loaded with bottles of water arrived... We were filled to the brim with water and with gratitude to God," she said.

Sister's testimony was given as part of a Jubilee for Workers of Mercy and Volunteers in anticipation of the canonization of Mother Teresa, their foundress, Sept. 4. At the end of Sr. Sally's speech, the Pope presented a catechesis on mercy to those present.

"With our hearts filled with greater love and enthusiasm, we begged God to continue using our nothingness to make the Church present in the world of today, through the mission entrusted to us by our Mother Teresa, even amid dangerous surroundings," said Sr. Sally.

"With the help of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, cause of our joy, we continue seeking the poorest of poor and bringing them God's own tender affection, through our humble words of love, little works of peace, given at the cost of our lives."

Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, discussed the fearless and joyful spirituality embraced by the Missionaries of Charity. 

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Asked how Sister Sally was recovering from the traumatic experience of escaping from the gunmen who killed her four sisters, the bishop told CNA, "She was ok even two days after the attack…I left her in Abu Dhabi, and then she was evacuated, and in that moment she told me, 'Bishop, I'm the first to go back if I get the permission'."

"And even today, she express to me this desire – If I can go back to Yemen, I will."


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