In a letter addressed to the Foreign Minister the Indian Bishops' Conference calls for "urgent action" to know the "real fate" of the priest. Government assures that all "available and relevant information will be shared". The bishops thanks the Vatican for diplomatic work, and asks people to continue praying for the life of the priest.
Delhi (AsiaNews) - The Indian Bishops' Conference (CBCI) has appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New Delhi, to do "everything possible" to ensure the safety and release of Fr. Tom, the Salesian kidnapped in Yemen by an extremist commando in early March.
In an official letter addressed to the Minister Sushma Swaraj and forwarded for publication to AsiaNews, the bishops call for an "urgent" government intervention to know "the true fate" of the priest. The prelates, who since the early days of the kidnapping had turned for help to the Prime Minister and to the highest offices of the State, also asked to take "all possible" means to secure his release.
In response, a top ministry official assured that the minister will receive a delegation of bishops soon and will share all "relevant available information" on the release of the priest.
Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil has been in the hands of the jihadist group, in all likelihood linked to the Islamic State (IS), since 4 March, whem they stormed a home for the sick and elderly of the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, in southern Yemen. In the attack four sisters of Mother Teresa and 12 other people present in the building were massacred.
So far there has been no official word on the fate of the 56 year old priest born in Ramapuram, near Pala (Kottayam, Kerala), into a deeply Catholic family. His uncle Mathew, who died last year, also a Salesian, was the founder of the mission in Yemen. Fr. Tom had been in Yemen for four years.
Early last week rumors - unsubstantiated – began to circulate in India of a plan drawn up by the kidnappers that included torture, murder and crucifixion of the priest on March 25, to coincide with Good Friday, the memorial of Christ’s passion and death. These rumors were never confirmed, instead they were denied on several occasions by the Salesians and the Vicariate of Arabia, but have helped fuel fears about the fate of the Indian priest. In response, the Salesian Family has asked people to pray for Fr. Tom on the occasion of Holy Thursday and the main celebrations dedicated to Easter.
In the letter sent by the bishops, signed by the deputy secretary general Msgr. Joseph Chinnayyan, it is stressed that the CBCI headquarters in Delhi is in "constant contact" with the government, which is working in a "serious and sincere" manner to locate Fr. Tom. However, despite the effort made to date there is no "definitive answer" on the place where he is being held, or why he was seized.
Condemning the rumors that spread last week about an alleged crucifixion of Fr. Tom, the bishops also point out that it is in the "interest" of "our country to step up efforts to verify the truthfulness" of these "disturbing rumors." The bishops also express their gratitude for the Vatican’s efforts, through its diplomatic channels, to get news of the Salesian, the bishops invite everyone to continue to pray for the salvation of the priest.