Mother Teresa at 18 years old. Photo: LABRUZZO/GIACOMINO/ROPI/ZUMA PRESS

Love and Hate in Aden: Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu

History and culture

Thu, 11-08-2022 04:08 PM, Aden

Fatimah Johnson (South24) 

The practical and general application of Jesus of Nazareth’s potted version of Mosaic Law as found in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 22, verses 34-40, was gruesomely disrupted by gun killers in Aden, South Yemen on 4 March 2016. 

Translations of the Gospel of Matthew allege that Jesus once said “everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from” [1] two commandments: love of God and love of others. 

On March 4, 2016, 16 people were robbed of their lives in Aden. The attack occurred inside a home founded in 1992 by the Missionaries of Charity that itself had been established as a Roman Catholic congregation in the Archdiocese of Calcutta in 1950 by Mother Teresa. [2]

As a hyper-famous public figure of one of the world’s most enduring international organizations, the Roman Catholic Church, Mother Mary Bojaxhiu Teresa (as recorded on her Indian passport – her birth name is above) was constantly being questioned as to her motivation in establishing care homes, first in India and then beyond. By the year of her death in 1997 she had established 610 foundations in 123 countries. She had labored in this fashion since 1948. In line with the verse quoted above, in interviews decades after her missionary work began, she made love her primary cause. The love she spoke of though, was specifically dictated by Roman Catholic doctrine, that of the Eucharist (explained by her in an interview for Real to Reel in 1981 as Jesus having made himself the “bread of life to satisfy our hunger for God” [3]). She goes onto claim that love of the poor constituted receiving the Eucharist (consumption of consecrated bread and wine that Roman Catholics believe becomes the literal flesh and blood of Jesus) because a poor person is Jesus in disguise, starved of love. She states in the same interview, that “the Eucharist and the poor are so close, they are one”. This fantastic vision of the poor, a teleological view of love, conjures up the scene in Christina Rossetti’s Despised and Rejected (1866) in which a figure properly understood as Jesus but unnamed in the poem, begs for succor at a closed door: My Heart doth bleed for thee/Open to Me. [4] 

In 2021, Catholic publications (National Catholic Register and Aleteia) reported that the attack in Aden had caught the attention of the artistically minded and a film entitled The Garden of Aden was being envisioned by a British-Yemeni film team. [5] Both publications reported that the film was still in a pre-production phase and that it would focus in particular on the killing of four nuns, Sisters Anselm (from India), Reginette (from Rwanda), Judith (from Kenya) and Marguerite (from Rwanda) at the home in Aden. [6] Sources state that none of the residents themselves (some 60 elderly and disabled people) were killed. [7] Reading the comments from the production team in the National Catholic Register, it is clear that the treatment of the anticipated film will be ideologically driven. The production team espouse the political philosophy of multiculturalism as an ideal for “Yemen”. No distinction is made between North and South Yemen. Further, the applicability of multiculturalism in the two modern Yemens (states), which has its roots in the Civil Rights Movement starting in 1948 in the United States of America [8], is not questioned. British-Yemeni Bader Ben Hirsi (who has written the script and is due to direct) states:

For me, it has a lot to do with interfaith. Muslims and Catholics lived together in this care home in perfect harmony. They created a paradise together and coexisted with mutual respect and understanding. They became one family, an example to us all in this day and age. … The story is very powerful with some beautiful, caring people. Despite the horrors of that fateful morning, there’s something very beautiful about people’s ability to love one another regardless of color, creed or religion. This is so important today. [9]

The Vicar Apostolic for the Southern Arabian Peninsula, Bishop Paul Hinder, has claimed that the bloody attack was the result of religious hatred manifesting itself in Aden. Aden has a long history of various religions flowering there (Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity). Whilst not explicitly stated by Bishop Hinder, it is implicit in his claim that the attack is due to the ongoing damaging influence of the religious fascism of the notorious Osama Bin Laden, whose views have sadly become part of the political equation in many parts of the world. However, it is to be noted here that Bishop Hinder’s claim is a highly emotive and reductionist one: "For me there is no doubt that the sisters have been victims of hatred – hatred against our faith”. [10] A brief history of Aden would be sufficient to convince a student of her past that religious heterogeneity has not been maintainable to the same standards of the past due to historical events, not everything can be attributed to religious fascism. For example, the closure of the Suez Canal prompted by conflict between Israel and Egypt in 1967 [11] was devastating to Aden’s economy as the Canal did not reopen until 1975. Its closure forced many business communities in Aden (including those of Indian origin who would have primarily been Hindu) to leave forever. Bishop Hinder also contradicts himself in the same statement given to the Catholic News Agency when he proffered an supernatural explanation for the crime of March 2016 in Aden. Moving away from his insistence that the attack happened due to religious fanaticism, he claims that the Devil (a mythological being that features in Manichaean as well as Islamic and Christian thought) is responsible: "there is no reason for such an act unless people, who deliberately or not knowingly, are the devil's agents." [12]

The official response from the State of the Vatican City, as delivered by Cardinal Pietro Parolin on behalf of Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church, was to focus on sorrow and conscience rather than pass judgement on who bears the legal as well as the moral responsibility for the killings. The current Pope was also adamant that the Sisters were serving “the people of Yemen”. [13] In contrast, after the Angelus (a Catholic prayer) on 6 March 2016 in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City the Pope asserted that the Sisters named above “gave their blood for the Church” [14] not South Yemen and that the international community was in part responsible for their violent deaths because the Sisters were “victims …of indifference too, of this globalization of indifference, which does not care”. [15]

The cracks in the reasoning for Mother Teresa’s work during her life and her legacy work by the Missionaries of Charity seem to reveal that the real objective has always been Roman Catholic nationalism, what the late Christopher Hitchens described as: “the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjection”. [16] The Missionaries of Charity website presents itself innocently as having only love as its core objective: “Our objective is to love and serve the poorest of the poor, both materially and spiritually, not only in the slums but also all over the world”. [17] One page on the website (Mother Teresa on Religion) uses the word love no less than forty-one times. Attestation is one thing and concrete evidence is another. Hitchens was one of the first journalists to ever critique Mother Teresa, something that did not happen until he had published polemics against her in the American publications, The Nation and Vanity Fair. Most of his criticism of her came in the form of a 1994 TV documentary and then later in a 1995 book entitled The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Thus, by 1995 Mother Teresa’s statements and actions had not been judged on a rational basis. She had been seen as “good” by definition and no-one dared look beyond the superficiality of her actions. For instance, she was famed for literally picking up abandoned people from public streets: “I see somebody dying, I pick him up”. [18] The view that Mother Teresa was beyond reproach was also cemented by a 1969 book and BBC documentary by Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God. Following the screening, Muggeridge claimed he had witnessed a miracle in the presence of Mother Teresa when he visited her in Calcutta; that his cameraman Ken Macmillan had photographed “divine light”. [19] Macmillan himself has asserted that the light seen in the documentary was only the result of high quality Kodak film. [20]

No information can be found on the official website of the Missionaries of Charity, about the home in Aden, the focus is almost entirely on India, though Catholic press services claim it continues to be fully operational. [21] In a beleaguered country such as South Yemen, it does not seem right that a large powerful organization be allowed to function in a capital city without accessible information on its operations. This is even more troubling when the contents of Hitchens book are considered. He highlights the fact that Mother Teresa was anti-abortion, anti-contraception, she urged impregnated rape victims in Bangladesh to accept their pregnancies, she practiced secret baptisms of dying Hindus and Muslims, she once refused to install an elevator in a home in New York for the disabled, there is no known audit of her congregation’s accounts, she defended a huge fraudster (Charles Keating – guilty of the Lincoln Savings and Loan scam in the USA) in a signed 1971 letter by her to the Superior Court in Los Angeles California, she accepted the Légion d'honneur award in Haiti from the former President, Jean-Claude Duvalier who on return from exile from France was apprehended on human rights violation charges but died before he could be tried in court. Perhaps the most damning allegation comes in the form of testimony from a Dr Robin Fox in The Lancet in 1994. He stated that not all of the people at Mother Teresa’s home in Calcutta (called Home for the Dying) making medical decisions had actual medical knowledge, that clinical investigations were rarely allowed by Mother Teresa, that medical algorithms for the purpose of diagnosis was not permitted and pain relief medication was also forbidden. Dr. Fox states a Mother Teresa care home could not be properly described as a hospice which is designed to provide palliative medical care for terminally ill people as her homes do not meet this definition. [22] Mother Teresa’s own testimony reveals the real reason her congregation was founded and then extended across the globe: “Our works are only an expression of our love for Christ…naturally then the poorest of the poor are the means of expressing our love for God”. [23] This shows that Mother Teresa was a proselytizer, a religious fundamentalist who once laid a wreath at the “Mother Albania” monument in Tirana that symbolizes aggressive Albanian expansion for a Greater Albania [24], on a campaign to acquire more bodies for the Roman Catholic Church.

The attack in Aden provoked several passionate statements such as the claim that the attack has been launched because there are people in both North and South Yemen who “simply do not support the presence of Christians who serve the poorest of the poor” [25] and that “Islamic militants …destroyed every [Christian] image, statute or crucifix they could find”. [26] However, it is not apparent that any formal conclusive investigation has taken place regarding the attack and these wild speculative statements fall far short of expected standards in terms of attributing criminal guilt. South and North Yemen are tinderboxes so great care is to be taken when discussing this attack as the truth is, we know very little about the attack other than what straight news can inform of. 

Mother Teresa is now best remembered for her reputation for kindness and capacity to give love. She did some truly incredible individual acts in her life. In 1982 she saved 37 mentally ill and disabled children in Beirut, victims of Lebanon’s now historic complex war that had begun in 1975. [27] Proclaiming her impressive achievements though does not answer the kind of challenge, Hitchens may have put to her defenders; is love really to be taken as a serious solution to chronic political and socio-economic problems such as those in South Yemen? When she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 she had said that “the greatest destroyer of peace today is the cry of the innocent unborn child”. [28] Mother Teresa was clearly not serious about measures that could move a developing country forward faster. She was a person consumed by New Testament literalism. Letters signed by her, were headed by a verse from the Gospel of Matthew (25:40): “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me” [29]

Fatimah Johnson 

London-based journalist


[1] Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994,1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group
[3] Episode 23 of Real to Reel, 07 June 1981 , uploaded by the Catholic Historical Research Center to YouTube
[4] Christina Rossetti, Selected Poems - Everyman’s Poetry, edited by Jan Marsh, Orion Publishing Group, London, 1996, p23
[7] NY Times 
[16] The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Books, London, 2021, p44
[19] The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Books, London, 2021, p27
[20] The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Books, London, 2021, p27
[22] The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Books, London, 2021, pp40-41
[23] The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Books, London, 2021, p32
[24] The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Books, London, 2021, p87
[29] Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994,1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group 

South YemenAdenHeritageMother TeresaIslamChristianity