The Salesian priest had been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists in Aden in 2016 when four Sisters of Mother Teresa were murdered. The vicar of southern Arabia and the president of the Indian Bishops' Conference thank the governments that have helped in securing his release and all those who have prayed for his release. The thanksgiving of Sr. Prema, Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity: Fr. Tom's photo was placed on the Mother's tomb.
Mascotte (AsiaNews) - Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, the Salesian abducted in 2016 in Aden, has been released, according to Msgr. Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia. The vicariate website says that "The bishop thanks all those who have been involved in the release efforts and all those who in the world have been praying incessantly for the healthy release of Fr. Tom ". Bishop Hinder reserves the right to provide further information later on. The Oman government was instrumental in the release of the priest.
Fr. Tom was abducted on March 4, 2016 in the nursing home belonging to Mother Teresa’s order in Aden. Four nuns and 12 others were killed In the attack, attributed to al –Qaeda affiliates.
Fr Tom, 57, was born in Ramapuram, near Pala (Kottayam, Kerala), into a deeply Catholic family. His uncle Mathew, who died in 2015, also Salesian, is the founder of the mission in Yemen. At the time of his abduction Fr. Tom had been in Yemen for four years. According to information from the Indian government, he is now in Oman, from where he will be transferred to India.
President of the Indian Bishop's Conference, Cardinal Isaac Cleemis Thottunkal, told AsiaNews, "We are all grateful and joyful to all involved in the process of securing the release of Fr Tom, especially the Government of India and the State Government and to all people of good will, who prayed for the safety and the release of Fr Tom. As a church in India, we are grateful to Pope Francis and the Holy see for releasing our dream in getting the release of Fr Tom".
Sr. Mary Prema, Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, whose sisters had Fr. Tom as their chaplain in Aden, has issued a statement saying: "I am overwhelmed with this good news. And I praise God for his Mercy. We had never given up hope that one day father Tom would be released. His photograph is fixed on the tomb of mother. The sisters , the poor and the people have been praying daily for his release. We give all glory to God and we thank all those who prayed and worked tirelessly for father Tom's release".
The priest, released after 18 months of kidnapping in Yemen, will remain in the Vatican "to secure his wellbeing and allow for his full recovery." Father Tom tried to kiss Pope Francis' feet, who raised him and kissed his hands. "I've always felt Jesus next to me." Renewed thanks to the sultan of Oman. The Major Rector: No ransom was paid.
The Kerala-born priest served as chaplain to the Sisters of Mother Teresa, four of whom were killed in their convent. He was in mission to Yemen for four years. His uncle Matthew, a Salesian as well, founded the mission. Fr Tom chose to stay in the country, even though he had the opportunity to leave. Salesians have been present in Yemen since 1987 to provide outreach for the few local Catholics and the many migrant workers.
Sultan Qabus's commitment to securing the release was decisive. The priest was traced thanks to "some Yemeni parties". Fr. Tom will be in Rome for a few days. The "strength in faith and perseverance" of his family. Today Salesian homes around the world, will celebrate with a Mass of Thanksgiving and Eucharistic adoration.
For Mgr Paul Hinder, the "signal is clear: it has something to do with religion". A clergyman who lived at the nuns’ convent was abducted. The facility’s superior saved herself by hiding. Four nuns and ten civilians were killed. For the Vicar, they "sacrificed their lives by following their own charism."
Fr Cereda confirms the latest reports saying that Jihadi-held Fr Tom is "still alive". He stresses the need to focus on the case, keeping communication channels open and media attention high without pressure or “false hopes”. Meanwhile, Salesians continue to pray, hold Masses and perform Eucharistic adorations for the kidnapped clergyman.