Indian Salesians face precarious situation in Yemen

Aden (matters India)— Five Salesian priests, the only Catholic priests remaining in Yemen, continue their work in the country despite ongoing violence and civil war. The priests are missionaries from the Don Bosco Province of Bangalore, India and have been in Yemen for the past 28 years operating four Salesian centers throughout the country.

One center is located in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen and the city with the highest number of Christians in the country, and the three other centers are in the cities of Aden, Taiz and Hodeida.

Two of the Salesian priests live and work in Sana’a and there is one priest working at each of the other three centers in the country. They oversee the three recognized Catholic churches in Aden and care for the expatriate Catholics hailing from different parts of the world, particularly from the Philippines and India, who work as nurses in the country.

In addition, the Salesian priests assist the Sisters of Charity, the only Catholic religious congregation present in Yemen other than the Salesians.

The Sisters of Charity focus their work on humanitarian activities in hospitals, centers for the aged and the infirm and homes for poor and disadvantaged youth. In Sana’a, Salesian missionaries also serve the Catholics attached to the diplomatic missions of various countries.

While the Salesian priests and Sisters of Charity remain safe, the situation is precarious. The fighting intensified weeks ago in the southern port city of Aden, where forces loyal to Yemen’s President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is now exiled, clashed with allies of the Houthis, a well-organized and influential Shiite group in a majority Sunni population, who now control the capital and forced President Hadi from power.

Aden is at the center of the conflict and was President Hadi’s last seat of power before he fled to Saudi Arabia last week. On April 2, Houthi rebels and their allies in Yemen stormed the presidential palace in Aden following heavy clashes, reported MissionNewswire.

Despite air strikes led by Saudi Arabia, the rebels pushed through Aden using tanks and armored vehicles. They attacked several government buildings including the central prison, where they freed hundreds of inmates, according to a BBC report. At least 44 people have been killed in the violence, including 18 civilians.

“As regards the situation here, so far I am safe. Of course there were frightening moments with rockets passing just above the taxi I was traveling in, shooting and yelling around our church, the sound of bombs and rocket explosions within a range of 5 to 10 kilometers,” says the Salesian priest remaining in the city of Aden.

The lack of an authoritative central power and the withdrawal of foreign missions has made the continued Salesian presence in the country all the more difficult and dangerous. India has asked its citizens, who number more than 4,000, to leave the country.

While the situation in Yemen has always been difficult for Salesian missionaries, the current fighting in Yemen, and in particular within Aden, has made it more difficult than ever.

“Even though there was a civil war here earlier, Aden was a safe place with the presence of many established embassies and their security guards and the army around. But now it is different. There are no embassies in Aden and the countries which were protecting and training the military here have pulled out. Many business firms, companies and wealthy families have left,” adds the Salesian priest in Aden.

Recently, a bomb fell on one of the nursing hostels that had just been blessed by the Salesian priest. Fortunately, none of the nurses were at the hostel during the time and there were no reported injuries.

The Sisters of Charity have vowed to remain in Yemen to continue their humanitarian work. The Salesian priests remain as well assessing the situation day to day.

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