Vicar of Arabia: Still no word on Fr. Tom. We pray for his release

Msgr. Hinder reports that so far there has been no official communication on the fate of the Salesian kidnapped in Yemen. The prelate thanks all for the demonstrations of solidarity from many parts of the world. April 4 in Bangalore a vigil marking one month since his capture was held. Salesian Vicar: a "testing time" to help us overcome "fears and divisions".

Sanaa (AsiaNews) – There “is no new news” on fate of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, the Salesian priest kidnapped by an extremist commando in early March. So far, there has been "no official communication" and in this context we must continue to "hope and pray”, says Msgr. Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen). He was speaking to AsiaNews exactly one month on from the assault of a commando of the Islamic State (IS) on the compound of the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, southern Yemen.

Msgr. Hinder renews his call for caution and prayer, expressing appreciation for the many signs of affection and solidarity not only from India, but all over the world. "Yesterday I heard of an Indian parish - says the prelate - where children gather and pray for Fr. Tom". And there have been prayer vigils "in various dioceses in the world" that help keep hope alive.

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.

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 celebrations dedicated to Easter.

In this context a prayer vigil was organized 4 April, one month after the attack, by the Archdiocese of Bangalore (India) and led by Msgr. Bernard Moras. It was attended by a large number of priests, religious and faithful. Expressing solidarity with the family of Fr. Tom and Salesian fraternity, the prelate asked for prayers for the "conversion" of those who "are involved in these inhuman acts perpetrated in the name of religion". He also renewed his condolences for the killing of four sisters and the 12 employees of the structure.

Fr. Francesco Cereda, Vicar to the Rector Major of the Salesians, appreciates the many prayer initiatives scheduled these days for Fr. Tom. "In Bangalore - he tells AsiaNews – there is an important Salesian center where Fr. Tom worked extensively” before leaving for Yemen.

Fr Cereda stressed "the commitment of the Indian government, at the federal level, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chief Minister of Kerala" which has opened "several" channels to try to obtain release of the priest. He finally recalled "the many prayers and letters of support" received by the Salesian Congregation for Fr. Tom, who is going through "a testing time". The hope, said the priest, is that "this moment will help us overcome the divisions and fears around the world".