03/29/2019, 13.16
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Vicar of Arabia: I hope to return to Yemen before the end of my episcopate

Four years after the start of the conflict, Msgr. Hinder tells of a country "held hostage"  by  the struggling parties “inability” to "find a compromise". The hope of carrying out a pastoral visit in March 2015 canceled. And to send a priest to a Christian community marked by "material and spiritual" wounds and "worried" for the future of the country and of the Church.

Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) - The situation in Yemen four years after the start of the conflict "appears to be held hostage"  by  the struggling parties “inability” to "find a compromise",  to seek a solution that leaves not only winners and losers.

Interviewed by AsiaNews Msgr. Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen), reveals his greatest desire before the end of his mandate: "I hope - he confesses - to be able to see Yemen again with my own eyes, before leaving my episcopate in Arabia ".

The prelate set foot in the country for the last time in December 2014, when signs of internal tensions were already visible. "I was in Aden - he recalls - where I blessed an altar of the cathedral and presided over the entry of the parish priest, who remained only three months". During the journey to the airport, he continues, "we changed the route at the last minute. Later I learned that the route we were supposed to take originally was the scene of an attack ".

The next pastoral visit was scheduled for March of the following year, but the entry of Saudi Arabia into the conflict and the escalation of violence blocked all the projects: "They called me from Yemen - says Msgr. Hinder - telling me not to come. Then two of the three priests left during Holy Week, accepting the requests of the Indian government [country of origin]. There is one left, but in 2016 he also had to leave for health reasons ”.

The Christian community has been deeply marked by the jihadist attack on the compound of the Missionaries of Charity of March 4, 2016, in which four nuns and 12 others were killed. The extremists seized a priest, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, freed in September of the following year. "It would be a dream to make the pastoral visit - underlines the vicar – but any improvement of the situation" still appears far away.

In fact, in recent days eight people, including four children, died in an air raid that hit a hospital that works in collaboration with volunteers and activists of Save the Chilndren. Eyewitnesses report of a missile - probably started by a fighter of the Saudi-led Arab coalition - which hit a gas station near the main entrance of the Ritaf hospital, an agricultural area 100 km south of Saada. Already in the past Riyadh air raids had centered on hospitals or schools, with victims even among children.

There is still a climate of great tension and violence in Yemen. "Sometimes - says Msgr. Hinder - signs of improvement seem to emerge, then the process stops because the ability to reach a compromise is missing. Trust is needed, but the climate is lacking to rebuild it ”. To this, he adds, "whoever gains from the conflict and has no interest in stopping, known and unknown protagonists are playing games. The only innocents are civilian victims".

The war in Yemen broke out in 2014 as an internal conflict between pro-Saudi government and Shiite Houthi rebels close to Iran, but later degenerated in March 2015 with the intervention of the Arab coalition led by Riyadh.

So far it has registered over 10 thousand deaths and 55 thousand injured. Independent bodies set the toll (between January 2016 and end of July 2018) at about 50 thousand deaths. Since it only concerns the combatants, not the "indirect victims" (civilians) who have died from malnutrition or cholera.

Among the first victims there are children, who have died as a result of bombs or very serious malnutrition: at least 85,000 children under the age of five, according to various international humanitarian agencies. Recently UN experts have said that at least 14 million people are at risk of starvation. Moreover there are an estimated 2500 child soldiers and half of all young girls get married before the age of 15.

"On a humanitarian level - explains the prelate - the situation seems to have worsened, but the reality changes from region to region. Among the most critical nodes is the port city of Hudaydah, because goods, goods, and aids that are then conveyed into the area controlled by the Houthis enter from that sector, "while the opposite front tries in every way to block supplies.

Finally, there is the problem of "finding reliable and competent sources for gathering information". "Every now and then - he concludes - I can talk to some Christians still in the country, with not their concern for the future of the Church and Yemen. What are they asking for? In addition to peace, the possibility to love their faith and have a priest again”.

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