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1/4/2015 - Yemen - The situation of the country and of the Salesians

(ANS – Sana’a) – The Salesians of Don Bosco of the Province of Bangalore, India, have been in Yemen for the past 28 years. They are there at the invitation of the Vicar Apostolic of Abu Dhabi and are present in four centres namely, Sana’a, the Capital of Yemen; Aden, Taiz and Hodeida. We publish their account of recent events in the country which is gripped by a civil war and is being bombarded by forces from a coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

There are five Salesians in Yemen. Two of them reside in Sana’a which has the highest number of Christians. The other three each live alone in three other centres. They come together each month for a day of recollection, to share their experiences and to spend some time with each other. In this way they try to deal with some of the problems associated with living alone in a totally non-Christian environment.

The Salesians are the only Catholic priests in the country. They look after the three recognized churches in Aden and care for the expatriate Catholics hailing from different parts of the world, especially the Philippines and India, who work there as nurses. They look after the spiritual needs of the Sisters of Charity. They are the only Catholic Religious Congregation present in the country apart from the Salesians. The Sisters are engaged in a number of humanitarian activities in hospitals, centres for the aged and the infirm as well as in Homes for needy children. In Sana’a the Salesians also serve the Catholics attached to the diplomatic missions of the various countries.

Understandably the situation has always been difficult for the Salesians but recent happenings in Yemen appear to have made it more difficult than ever. The internal struggle for power among the various factions has been complicated by the direct entry of Saudi Arabia into the fray with the bombardment of the military installations of the Houthis – a well-organised and influential Shiite group in a majority Sunni population. They have made a strong bid for control of the whole of Yemen forcing the President to flee the capital and later the country. The lack of an authoritative central power and the withdrawal of foreign missions has made the continued presence in the country all the more difficult and dangerous. India has asked its citizens, who number more than 4000, to leave the country.

“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 travelling in, shooting and yelling around our church, the sound of bombs and rocket explosions within a range of 5 to 10 kilometres, and so on,” says a Salesian from Aden.

“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.

In the civil society there are several factions with various affiliations.  Even the military are split, with one group supporting the rebels, others supporting the former president and still others the present President. The same is true with regard to other institutions like the police. The local militias owe allegiance to individual leaders and we have some idea of the actual situation facing the country and its people”.

Published 01/04/2015

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