04/08/2016, 13.48
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Mgr Menamparampil visits the family of Fr Tom, an example of courage and mission

by Nirmala Carvalho

The Archbishop of Guwahati spoke about the Indian Salesian held by a Jihadi group in Yemen. The clergyman was aware of the risks he was taking, but always wanted to do this work. The prelate met with the family and saw the solidarity of Christians around the world.  The brother of the kidnap victim wept during a moment of prayer.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Mgr Thomas Menamparampil SDB, the current apostolic administrator of Jowai and archbishop emeritus of Guwahati, India, spoke to AsiaNews about Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, the Indian priest abducted in Yemen in early March.

"From the start I admired his courage and his foresight in all situations," the prelate said. “He was well aware of the risks that he faced and was ready to suffer his fate." Still, "we hope wholeheartedly that he can be rescued from his kidnappers and that the sisters can find a way to continue their mission."

"When I read the news about the brutal murder of the sisters and saw their pictures, I was travelling to a remote mission-station. I wept. I could not control myself," the archbishop said.

A Jihadi group, in all likelihood linked to the Islamic State group, has held Fr Tom Uzhunnalil since 4 March, after it stormed a home for the sick and elderly run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden.

During the attack, four Sisters of Mother Teresa and 12 other people present in the facility were slaughtered.

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

During Holy Week, unsubstantiated stories began circulating in India claiming that the kidnappers planned to torture, kill and crucify the priest on Good Friday, the day when Christians mark Christ’s passion and death.

Such unconfirmed rumours have led to repeated denials by the Salesians and the Vicariate of Arabia, but have helped fuel fears about the Indian priest’s fate. 

Over the past few weeks, prayers were recited in Indian and various parts of the world calling for the clergyman’s release. One was held in the Archdiocese of Bangalore on 4 April, a month since the abduction.

A leading peace and human rights advocate, Mgr Menamparampil met Fr Tom on several occasions. He remembers his uncle, Fr Mathew, "who proved himself very successful” in Yemen.

Lately though, "things have changed", the bishop said. However, "Fr Tom was not thinking of giving up so easily. He used to encourage the sisters to be ready for martyrdom. That is exactly what they did.”

Recently, the bishop visited Fr Tom’s family in Ramapuram, Kerala, where he met and talked with his older brother, Mathew.

The relatives "received many visits in recent days," the prelate explained, "including several bishops, local BJP leaders and others."

Groups of faithful "spent time praying with Mathew" for Fr Tom’s release. "I too asked him to pray and requested him to read the first five verses of Psalm 20, my favourite."

"As he read the first line 'May the Lord hear your prayers in time of trouble', he broke down. He could not continue reading for some time.”

The archbishop of Guwahati told Fr Tom’s family about the worldwide wave of solidarity and the many prayer meetings held for his release, and “he wept even more. With me were two of my priest brothers, and they too jointed in prayer for Fr Tom.”

The family "has no more information than what has appeared in the papers," Mgr Menamparampil said; however, Kerala and Indian authorities are doing their utmost to secure the Salesian priest’s release.

“Some years ago, Fr James Pulickal, SDB, was working in Sudan,” said the archbishop. At one point, “He was kidnapped by some Muslim group and detained for years before he was released. His natural goodness touched them and persuaded them to let him go. Let us put our trust in the Lord who knows times and seasons for everything.”

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