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MUMBAI – An Indian Catholic killed by a stray bullet in Sudan in front of his wife and daughter on April 15 is finally home, with his remains returned to the southern Indian state of Kerala May 19 and laid to rest the next day.
Albert Augustine, a former Indian soldier who had been working in private security for a Sudanese company, was killed when he opened a window in his Khartoum apartment to attempt to reach his son, who was in the UK at the time, on the phone.
Augustine thus became an early casualty of the fighting that’s gripped Sudan since April 15 between forces loyal to the country’s army chief and a leading rival, which has left hundreds of people dead and displacing more than a million.
Augustine had invited his wife and daughter to join him in Sudan for a couple of weeks during their summer vacation before the violence erupted, and they found themselves trapped in his apartment for days after his death awaiting evacuation. The family is deeply Catholic, with one of Augustine’s sisters being a nun.
The wife, Saibella, and the daughter, Marieta, were eventually rescued and returned to India on April 27. Bureaucratic and security procedures delayed the return of Augustine’s body by another two weeks.
His remains eventually were returned to India aboard a C-17 Airforce evacuation aircraft, according to the Indian embassy in Sudan. Estimates are that some 4,000 Indian nationals live and work in Sudan.
The body was transported from Port Sudan airport to a military airbase near New Delhi by an Indian Air Force flight. It arrived at the family home in Nellippara, Kerala, around 1:00 a.m. on Saturday.
The Catholic funeral was held at Holy Family Church, near his house at Nellippara around 1:00 p.m. Saturday. Hundreds, including family, friends and colleagues, came to pay homage to Augustine.
Eight priests concelebrated the funeral Mass, and many clergy had visited and prayed beforehand, including retired Syro-Malabar Archbishop George Valiyamattam of Tellicherry.
Augustine’s sister, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy and director of St. Joseph’s Community College in Bhubaneswar in northeastern India, said the family’s Catholic faith is a source of comfort.
“We are all grieving, the loss of my brother is very painful, but we’re uniting our Pain and sorrow to the Passion of Jesus Christ, praying for peace in Sudan,” said Sister Remya Thomas.
“My mother’s grief is unbearable, she has lost her only son … she told me that in her bitter agony, she feels the support of the Grieving Mother of Jesus at the foot of the Cross, and my mummy is offering her pain for an end to the War in Sudan and Ukraine,” Thomas said. “She was weeping when she asked Jesus, to help all the weeping mothers, who have lost their sons in Sudan and Ukraine also mothers in Russia.”
“The faith has been the source of the strength, they are weeping and in deep agony, but we all unite with Pope Francis in begging God for an end to war in Sudan and Ukraine,” Thomas said. “Their strong faith has given them gratitude in these days of grief, they’re grateful to God that my brother could be brought home and given a Christian funeral.”
During the funeral Mass, the priest delivering the homily noted the irony that Augustine had served his nation for 19 years as a veteran army commander, only to be struck down by tragedy as a civilian when he went to Sudan to try to provide for his family.