From left, Sisters Anselm, Reginette, Judith and Marguerite, the Missionaries of Charity sisters who were killed in Aden, Yemen, by two gunmen who attacked their convent on March 4.
THE APOSTOLIC VICARIATE OF SOUTHERN ARABIA/cna
The Church is here to love and accompany people
Michael C. Barber, SJ
When one member of the Body of Christ suffers, all the members of the Body feel it. We learned of the horrific murder on March 4 of four Catholic sisters in Yemen and their 14 co-workers.
The sisters were Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa, and they staffed a nursing home for the elderly poor. They were martyrs, women who died for the Faith. Our Catholic Faith.
Their hands were handcuffed behind their backs. They were shot in the head, and their skulls crushed in the sand. After executing the other nurses and attendants, the criminals smashed every crucifix, religious image and the tabernacle. These martyrs died for their love and devotion to Jesus Christ — while they were in the midst of performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
This crime was carried out just as Pope Francis was opening the "24 Hours for the Lord" celebration for the Jubilee of Mercy, joined by every bishop in the world — including us here in Oakland. Hundreds of thousands of people streamed to Catholic churches around the world that weekend to pray and go to confession. It is as if Satan was angered by this outpouring of Divine Love and Mercy, and wanted his revenge.
I went to console the Missionaries of Charity community who have a convent in St. Mark's Parish in Richmond. In our diocese they visit the county jail, teach catechism to children and feed day laborers.
I brought these sisters the sympathy and prayers of all of us, my brothers and sisters of the diocese. Some months ago the sisters serving in Yemen were warned that it was dangerous for Christians to stay — and they were offered a transfer.
But they stayed — saying, "Who will look after these elderly?" They were like the Trappist monks in the 2010 film "Of Gods and Men" who were offered the chance to leave Algeria, but decided to stay and serve the people. They too were executed by Islamic extremists.
Christ is crucified over and over in His beloved followers. When we were baptized, we were "baptized into His death" ... so that we could then be raised to new life in Christ on Easter.
In the meantime, we continue to carry out His mission on earth: a mission summarized by the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
On Holy Thursday, in addition to the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, I will celebrate a second Mass at the Mercy Retirement and Care Center in Oakland.
In this year when our state government has passed an "assisted suicide" law — which will put pressure on the elderly to kill themselves "lest they become a burden" — I want to emphasize that the Church is here to love and accompany people as they age. Through the residents of the Mercy Center I want to symbolically wash the feet of every elderly person in our diocese, and show them how much they mean to Christ and His Church.
Those nuns in Yemen gave their lives for Christ — AND the elderly people they served. They refused to abandon them. The sisters saw the face of Christ in each of their retired residents. So may it be with us in the Catholic Diocese of Oakland.
Blessings on your Holy Week and Easter.
If you would like to send a condolence card or donation to the Missionaries of Charity here in our diocese, their address is: Missionaries of Charity, 236 17th St., Richmond, CA 94801-3217.
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