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.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, the priest kidnapped for 18 months in Yemen and released two days ago, will remain in the Vatican for medical treatment, a guest of the Salesian House in the Holy See area. In a statement released by the Salesian Agency (Ans), announces that his Congregation "has taken that decision considering it the most suitable place to secure his wellbeing and allow for his full recovery." The priest will return to India when the doctors consider it appropriate.
Fr. Tom was abducted on March 4, 2016 in Mother Teresa’s hospice in Aden. In the attack by probable Qaedaists, four nuns and 12 others were killed.
Yesterday morning, Fr. Tom met Pope Francis. In coverage of the event by l’Osservatore Romano, following Indian custom, Fr. Tom bent down to kiss the feet of the pontiff, who immediately helped him to get up, kissed his hands and blessed him (see photo). The priest confided to the Pope that he prayed daily for him, "offering his sufferings precisely for his mission and for the good of the Church." He also said that during the period of his kidnapping he could never celebrate Mass, but that "every day I repeated within me, in my heart, all the words of the celebration."
Card. Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, who accompanied him to the Pope, said Fr. Tom is in good health and that "during the prison time he had no particular problems and was treated well."
In the evening Fr. Tom met with some members of the Salesian community, including the Vicar of the Rector Major, Don Francesco Cereda and Don Thomas Anchukandam, who was Fr. Uzhunnalil's professor in Bangalore and responsible for sending him to Yemen.
Fr Tom asked to celebrate Mass, but he was forced to postpone while waiting for the necessary medical examinations. He also asked to be confessed, which he had been unable to do since his kidnapping.
The Ans report states that "Fr. Uzhunnalil appeared calm and helpful, and without dwelling on the details he answered his confreres questions. He confirmed that when the assailants kidnapped him he was in the chapel of the community of the Missionaries of Charity of Aden. He also said that after the kidnapping he was never mistreated and that because of his rapid weight loss the kidnappers also started providing him with the diabetes medication he needed. "
During the entire period of imprisonment he had the same clothes and his abductors-who spoke Arabic-communicated with a bit of English; and during the seizure he was transferred two or three times, but in such circumstances he was always blindfolded.
During his sequester, the kidnappers posted two videos in December 2016 and another a few months ago, where Fr. Tom said he was "forgotten" by everyone and asked the Pope and the world's Catholics to do everything possible for his release.
The missionary stated that he had "never thought he would be killed" and that "every day, I felt Jesus next to me, I always knew and felt in my heart that I was not alone."
The dynamics of his release, as well as the identity of those who kidnapped him, remain obscure. It is only known that the priest was found and released thanks to the commitment of the sultan of Oman, to whom the Vatican, the Apostolic Vicar of South Arabia and the Salesian community have expressed their thanks.
A message sent yesterday by the chief rector of the Salesians, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, states: "There are many things that we ourselves do not know. It is certain that the release and delivery took place through a humanitarian, communication and connection with the Sultanate of Oman. " Fr. Artime adds that "the Salesian Congregation has not been asked to pay any ransom, and we have no news of any payments having been made."
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.
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.
The superior of the Aden community has entrusted to a sister the dramatic story of the assault on the nursing home for the elderly and disabled. The sisters were killed because of their "fidelity" to their mission, by being found ready "to welcome their Spouse”. A blood sacrifice in the hope that it will bring about "shoots of peace for the Middle East and help stop Isis". The signed letter (PDF).
Mgr Hinder said that "government channels” have been activated to determine Fr Tom’s fate. At present, it is still unclear whether he is alive or dead. The lone survivor, the mother superior, was moved “out of the country". Shocked, Yemenis condemn the attack. Mgr Ballin agrees with pope about "Too much indifference around this brutal affair.”
A day of prayer organized by the Bishops' Conference. The initiative was also joined Protestant communities. Rev. Thomas Jacob: "Let us pray for him to return home safely." Hundreds of faithful at candlelight vigil organized at Our Lady’s Cathedral Trivandrum.