The month of March has been particularly bloody for Christians living in the Middle East and Asia. On March 4, the Missionaries of Charity home for the elderly in Aden, Yemen was attacked by an extremist group. According to the eyewitness testimony of Sister M. Sally, the only nun to survive the attack, various lay workers pleaded with the attackers to not hurt the sisters, but their pleas were ignored.
The terrorists killed the guards and then proceeded to enter the home to find the sisters. Sister M. Sally recounted the sisters running away two by two, while Father Thomas Uzhunnalil, a resident at the home, went to consume the Sacred Hosts at the chapel.
According to Sister M. Sally’s testimony, “They caught Sr. Judit and Sr. Reginet first, tied them up, shot them in the head and smashed their heads.” Sr. Anselm and Sr. Marguerite met the same fate shortly after. The Superior herself was able to find refuge in a refrigerator room, where she was not discovered even though the assailants checked the room three times.
Reports say that Fr. Uzhunnalil was captured at the chapel and kidnapped. The assailants defaced the crucifix, tabernacle, and various other devotional items at the chapel. While the letter identifies the assailants as “ISIS,” the Islamic State has yet to take responsibility for the attack and is not the only extremist organization currently operating in war-torn Yemen.
The fate of Fr. Uzhunnalil is still in question. On March 20, The South African Franciscan Sisters of Siessen posted on Facebook that ISIS was holding him and intended to crucify him on Good Friday. Fr. Uzhunnalil’s own order, however, the Salesian Province of Bangalore denied having any information regarding Fr. Uzhunnalil’s health or whereabouts. Since no terrorist group has taken responsibility for the attack on the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, finding Fr. Uzhunnalil will prove challenging.
In addition to the attack in Aden, on Easter Sunday there was an explosion in a park in Lahore, the provincial capital of the Punjab Province in Pakistan, that claimed the lives of at least 70 people and wounded about 340 others. The majority of the people in the park were Pakistani Christians celebrating Easter. About 25 of the wounded are in critical condition. Among the victims were 29 children and seven women.
A splinter group from the Pakistani Taliban that has executed several terrorist attacks in northern Pakistan called Jarmaat-ur-Ahrar claimed responsibility. “The target was Christians,” Ensanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the group, said. “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore.” This is the group’s fifth suicide bombing attack since December. Observers speculate that there may be ties between Jarmaat-ur-Ahrar and the Islamic State, but it is unclear whether the Pakistani group has pledged allegiance to ISIS.
In Rome, Pope Francis condemned the attack as “hideous” and demanded greater protection for religious minorities from the Pakistani government. The Pakistani government, on the other hand, responded to the attack by pledging to launch a paramilitary crackdown on the Punjab province. Security officials told Reuters that this full-scale paramilitary operation will grant the military special powers to conduct raids and interrogate suspects.