Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, pictured in an undated photo, was kidnapped in Yemen March 4, 2016, in an attack in which four Missionaries of Charity were killed. The Salesians organized a special prayer meeting to mark the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping of the Indian priest. CNS photo/courtesy of Salesians

Indian Catholics still pray for release of Salesian kidnapped in Yemen

  • March 7, 2017

COCHIN, India – A year after an Indian priest was abducted by suspected Islamic militants in Yemen, Catholics in his home state of Kerala are still praying for his release, reported

Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil was taken by a group of armed men who stormed a home for the elderly run by Missionaries of Charity nuns in Aden, March 4, 2016. During the incident the gunmen murdered 16 people, including four nuns.

Even after one year, "We don't know who kidnapped the priest and where they have taken him. The government of India and the Vatican have been trying their best to secure his release. Sadly, these efforts have failed to produce any results so far," said Cardinal Baselios Thottunkal of Trivandrum, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. reported on the cardinal's remarks at a public meeting and prayer program at Ernakulam town hall March 4. The service was organized by the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council and the local province of the Salesians of Don Bosco; several such programs were organized across the state.

The cardinal referred to a video circulated on social media in which a man who looks like the priest accuses church officials and the Indian government of not doing enough to get him released.

Cardinal Thottunkal said a priest, "who went to the trouble-torn country on the call of God," would not blame the church.

"We cannot blame the government as the situation in Yemen is still volatile and India has no fully fledged diplomatic mission there. What we can do at this juncture is to pray to God to give strength to the priest to face the situation," he added.

Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly said the abduction of Father Uzhunnalil was part of God's plan.

"The torture he suffers will definitely deepen his faith and strengthen the church," he said.

"The suffering of Jesus Christ was God's plan. It led to the repentance of many and the growth of the church. Similarly, Father Tom's suffering will force evil forces to repent and result in the deepening of faith," the cardinal said.

The anniversary was also marked by prayers and protests in various parts of the state, where Christians account for 6 million of a total population of 33 million, reported. Hundreds of people joined the priest's relatives at his ancestral home at Ramapuram in Palai Diocese for a daylong fast and public meeting.

Father Uzhunnalil's brother, David Uzhunnalil, said the family was aware of the complexities of the issue.

"Nobody has been able to speak to him directly since the abduction. We don't even know what his condition is. We hope the government and the church will step up efforts and we are able to see him back in the country," David Uzhunnalil said.

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