Sanaa (AsiaNews) – “There are no further news” about the fate of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, said Mgr Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen).
Last Friday (4 March), a terrorist commando attacked a retirement home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden killing 12 civilians and 4 nuns. They also seized Fr Tom, a 56-year-old Indian priest.
Mgr Hinder said he is going through “government channels” in various countries “involved” to establish contacts in order to find out what happened to the clergyman who should be "in the hands of the attackers".
However, "we do not know if he is still alive,” the prelate noted. “There is no firm information. Channels have been activated” to get his release. “We are doing everything possible."
Yemeni authorities believe the Islamic State (IS) group is behind the violent incident. However, although the group is very active in the country, no one has yet claimed responsibility for the action.
"We are aware that no group has claimed the criminal attack . . . but information points to the involvement of Daesh," said a Yemeni security official, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
For Mgr Hinder, the attack against the retirement home in Aden, which led to the brutal deaths of four missionary sisters of Mother Teresa, has generated "profound sadness," not only among Christians in the region, but also among Yemenis.
"People in Aden, Yemenis in general, are sorry for the turn of events,” the bishop said. “They held the nuns and their work in high esteem. They were shocked by what happened because terrorists were behind it, although we do not know precisely who the perpetrators are."
The attackers killed the four nuns – Sister Anselma from India, Sister Marguerite and Sister Reginette from Rwanda, and Sister Judit from Kenya – and 12 other people who worked at the centre. Only the superior, Sister Sally (also from India) managed to save herself from the attackers’ brutality.
Speaking about the mother superior, Mgr Hinder said she “is going to be moved out of the country. The transfer should take place today."
"If there are no setbacks, she will be in a safe place today,” the prelate added. “The nun will move to one of the communities outside the country, but the situation is delicate and I cannot say more."
Mgr Hinder also thanked Pope Francis for his clear and strong condemnation of the attack against the Missionaries of Charity in yesterday’s Angelus, as well as his criticism for the world’s indifference.
Following the Marian prayer, the pope said, “I express my closeness to the Missionaries of Charity for the great loss they had”. He also appealed to Mother Teresa. May she “accompany her martyr daughters of charity in Heaven, and intercede for peace and sacred respect for human life.”
Mgr Camillo Ballin, apostolic vicar of Northern Arabia (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain), also launched an attack against the indifference of the media and civil society.
"The pope is right,” the bishop told AsiaNews, “because it is an evil thing to kill in the name of God. It is just as bad to see the indifference of the media, the absolute silence on the massacre" by mainstream media.
For the vicar, this is a "very serious". “Informing people about what happens in the world" is increasingly important.
For Mgr Ballin, the nuns bore witnessed with their own lives to "the passion of Christ," which "has involved them in his passion and death. Today, they partake in the joy of the resurrection."
Speaking about the situation of the Northern Vicariate, at least as far as Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait are concerned, he said that "there is freedom of worship, although with certain limits."
However, for some time, "a climate of tension is visible and governments have tightened controls and beefed up security because of real fears that the Islamic State group might make inroads.”
However remote, the prelate hopes to see the two great reginal powers, "Iran and Saudi Arabia, find a balance" between them.
Nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Teresa of Kolkata, were attacked in the past.
In July 1998, a gunman shot and killed three nuns of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa of Kolkata as they left a hospital in the Yemeni city of Al Hudaydah.
Local authorities said at the time that the attacker was an “unbalanced Saudi”. Two of the murdered nuns were from India – Sister Lilia and Sister Anneta – whilst the third, Sister Michelle, was from the Philippines.
Since January 2015, Yemen has been the scene of a bloody civil war pitting the country’s Sunni leadership, backed by Saudi Arabia, against Shia Houthi rebels, close to Iran.
In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against the rebels in an attempt to free the capital. For Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, who are allied to forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, are militarily supported by Iran, a charge the latter angrily rejects.
Groups linked to al Qaeda and IS-linked jihadist militias are active in the country, which adds to the spiral of violence and terror.