Mgr Hinder hints at "strong" signs that jihadists are still holding the Salesian. He rejects claims that the priest was killed, noting however that attempts to free him remain difficult. Over the weekend, some media falsely reported the Indian priest’s crucifixion.
Sanaa (AsiaNews) – There are "strong" signs that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, the Indian priest held by Jihadists since 4 March after they attacked the compound of the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, is "still alive”, said Mgr Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia*.
Hence, the Vicariate continues to reject rumours, including pictures, that emerged last week about the clergyman’s crucifixion on Good Friday, deeming them unsubstantiated.
Bishop Hinder himself has strongly denied the unconfirmed claims, noting that "so far no one has provided reliable evidence" that the priest was killed.
Speaking about ongoing attempts to secure Fr Tom’s release, he noted nothing could be said yet. Instead, he called on the faithful to pray because “we are at a difficult stage”.
A jihadist group, probably linked to the Islamic State (IS) group, seized Fr Tom Uzhunnalil on 4 March when it attacked a Missionaries of Charity facility, killing four sisters of Mother Teresa and 12 lay people in Aden, southern Yemen.
So far, nothing is known of the fate of the 56-year-old priest. Born in Ramapuram, near Pala (Kottayam, Kerala), He comes from a deeply Catholic family and had been in Yemen for four years. His uncle Matthew, who died last year, was also a Salesian, and the founder of the mission in Yemen.
Early last week, unsubstantiated stories began circulating in India claiming that the kidnappers planned to torture, kill and crucify the priest on Good Friday, the day when Christians mark Christ’s passion and death.
Such unconfirmed rumours have led to repeated denials by the Salesians and the Vicariate of Arabia, but have helped fuel fears about the Indian priest’s fate.
In view of the situation, the Salesian Family called on the faithful to pray for Fr Tom on Holy Thursday and during the main Easter celebrations.
Since then, several blogs and media outlets reported that IS had crucified Fr Uzhunnalil on Good Friday. However, the reports were based on a statement Austrian Card Christoph Schönborn of Vienna allegedly made during Easter vigil services. Since then, the cardinal has corrected his alleged statement, saying that the crucifixion had not taken place.
* The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia covers the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen.