Fr Tom Uzhunnalil receives the Mother Teresa Award 2017
by Nirmala Carvalho

The ceremony took place yesterday in Mumbai. The Salesian abducted in Yemen was recognised for his “dedication and commitment" and his work in "a location of great danger". For Fr Tom, "Wars are not the solution".

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, the Salesian clergyman abducted in Aden in 2016 and released last September through the mediation of the Sultan of Oman, received the Mother Teresa Award 2017 at a ceremony yesterday in Mumbai.

He was chosen for his "compassionate humanity" and his "dedication and commitment" to his work in "a location of great danger".

"I am a Catholic priest of the Salesians of Don Bosco, working for the young and the marginalised,” he told AsiaNews.  “I was given the opportunity to serve the mission in Yemen. God has a mission for each of us.

“My sincere thanks go to all those who have prayed for me – Hindus, Christians and Muslims – and to those who love humanity."

The names of the winners of this year's prize were announced last October.

Fr Tom was chosen "for the inspiring example of compassionate humanity, and for having continued to work for the elders of the Missionaries of Charity in Yemen, despite having had the opportunity to leave the country,” said Abraham Mathai, president of the Harmony Foundation, which has handed out the award since 2007 to honour the memory of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

“We praise Fr Tom's dedication and commitment for work in a location of great danger, where his colleagues were murdered in cold blood,” he added.

Fr Tom was abducted on 4 March 2016 at a retirement home run by the Sisters of Mother Teresa in Aden. Four nuns and 12 other people were killed in the attack, blamed on al-Qaeda.

‘Wars are not a solution for humanity,” Fr Tom said. “We are made in the Image of God, and we see God in our neighbour and should be as brothers and sisters.”

Asked if he ever thought of comparing his experience to that of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan who took the place of a man with a family in a starvation bunker in Auschwitz, Fr Tom answered simply: "It never occurred to me".

Speaking about the "dark night of the soul" – the period of sadness, fear, anguish, confusion and solitude of approach to God, considered indispensable to be born again, the Salesian said he had no doubts: "I do not know if it was dark. . . but for me it was always bright."

Despite the period of suffering and deprivation in the hands of his captors, Fr Tom instils calm and serenity.

At the ceremony, he allowed himself to be photographed with those present and smiled to anyone who said hello. "I thank the Lord for everything", he said.