07/20/2016, 14.05
YEMEN - INDIA
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Msgr. Hinder: doubts over video of Salesian kidnapped in Yemen; hopes he is still alive

A video posted on line shows Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil still in the hands of his kidnappers and  being beaten. The Vicar of Arabia believes the images are not new and do not provide "definite information". Vicar of the Salesians: It is important to keep case in public attention.

Aden (AsiaNews) - The video released by the kidnappers of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil "is nothing new," because it "does not provide any reliable information" except that, at the time when it was shot, he "was alive". This is what Mgr. Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen) underlines commenting on recently posted video (click here) showing the Indian priest, in critical condition and with visible signs of abuse. "We hope that he is alive - adds the prelate - we do not know when the video dates to, there is no certain information about it."

Since 4 March, Fr Tom Uzhunnalil has been in the hands of a jihadist group – in all likelihood linked to the Islamic State (IS) group – that massacred four sisters of Mother Teresa and 12 other people in Aden, in southern Yemen.

So far, nothing is known of the fate of the 56-year-old priest born in Ramapuram, near Pala (Kottayam, Kerala) into a deeply Catholic family. His uncle Matthew, who died last year, was also a Salesian, and the founder of the mission in Yemen.

Hours ago a video was posted online by the Indian newspaper Mathrubhumi News, given to them by Fr. Tom’s family. It shows the kidnapped priest being abused and in poor physical condition. There is currently no specific details about the video, regarding the place and date where it was filmed. Images show the Salesian missionary slapped several times by gunmen and his eyes covered by a blindfold.

A photo has been published on the priest’s Facebook page, which is most probably controlled by the kidnappers, of Fr. Tom, with a beard and long and unkempt hair (pictured); a portrait that contrasts with the profile photo, which dates back to the period before his capture.

"I have been in touch with one of Fr. Tom’s brother Salesians, who was in Yemen until Easter", says Msgr. Hinder "and it is he who sent me the video." With regard to the images, the prelate adds, "there is no certain information." The only element that is quite probable is that "the kidnappers have access to Fr. Tom’s Facebook page. And that they use and abuse it". We will see in the next few days, he concludes, while "I renew the call to prayer for him and for those who continue to remain in Yemen".

During Holy Week in India 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 asked people to pray for Fr. Tom on the occasion of Holy Thursday and the main Easter celebrations.

Even the Salesians in Rome confirmed that the Facebook page of the priest is now managed by his captors. "Others have posted the picture” Fr. Francesco Cereda, Vicar of the Rector Major of the Salesians tells AsiaNews, "we have not yet certainty as to its authenticity. There are still many doubts. " The positive element, adds Fr. Cereda, is that video and photos "bring Fr. Tom’s plight back to the attention of the public.  It had disappeared from international headlines in recent weeks. It is important to keep the interest of public opinion alive ".

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