For the apostolic vicar, it is important to confirm that the Indian Salesian is "still alive", although under "pressures" from the kidnappers. The prelate noted that work is underway “on several fronts” for his release. He appeals not to make or spread false or unconfirmed statements, and calls for prayers for the priest’s health.
Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – After months of silence, a video appeared yesterday showing Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian Father from India who was abducted in southern Yemen by extremists linked to the Islamic State (IS) in early March.
"The positive side" in the video released yesterday by Fr Tom’s kidnappers is "the fact that the priest is, or appears to be, still alive," said Mgr Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia*. On the "negative side, it seems that he spoke under duress according to the instructions of the kidnappers."
In the video mentioned by the prelate, the Indian Salesian calls on the Indian government, the Catholic community and Pope Francis for help for his release.
"It is clear that Fr Tom was misinformed, because it is not true that nothing was done,” the prelate said. “I can’t enter into details, but we are working on several fronts to secure his release."
In the video posted online, the clergyman states his name and says, "I may need hospitalisation soon".
Reading from a prepared text, he warns that his captors have tried several times to contact the Indian government, the president and the prime minister but "in vain" and that "nothing was done" for his release.
For the past ten months, Fr Tom Uzhunnalil has been in the hands of the Jihadi group, likely linked to IS, that stormed a home for the sick and elderly run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, in southern Yemen. In the attack, four sisters of Mother Teresa and 12 other people were killed.
In response to the video, the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia released an official statement, which was sent to AsiaNews.
“The features of the person speaking in the video bear a close likeness to Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil SDB,” the press release says. “However, the source of the video, the date of its creation and the circumstances under which it was recorded are unknown.
“Even though we have no information about Fr Tom’s present whereabouts, we have strong indications to believe that he is still alive.
“Since the day of the abduction of Fr Tom, the Church has made countless appeals from the highest levels to secure his release as well as made concrete efforts by way of working in close collaboration with both international and local diplomatic channels.”
Pope Francis himself, notes the vicariate of Arabia, spoke about the Indian priest asking for his release and that of anyone imprisoned in areas affected by armed conflict.
During Christmas celebrations, Mgr Hinder renewed a call to pray for Fr Tom’s release. In particular, during the Mass on 25 December, at St Joseph Catholic Church in Abu Dhabi, he and tens of thousands of faithful prayed for the Indian priest’s health.
Salesian communities around the world, and the Indian Bishops' Conference also said prayers and expressed their proximity to the kidnap victim.
It ends by calling on “the faithful not to be drawn into a cycle of disturbance and spreading unconfirmed reports on social media but to continue their prayers for Fr Tom as the channels try to secure his release.” (DS)
* United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen.