05/05/2016, 13.49
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Salesian vicar says priest abducted in Yemen still alive, urges prayers for him

Fr Cereda confirms the latest reports saying that Jihadi-held Fr Tom is "still alive". He stresses the need to focus on the case, keeping communication channels open and media attention high without pressure or “false hopes”. Meanwhile, Salesians continue to pray, hold Masses and perform Eucharistic adorations for the kidnapped clergyman.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Two months after Islamic State (IS) militants attacked a facility run by Missionaries of Charity of Aden, in southern Yemen, and seized a Salesian clergyman, Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, it is important to "continue paying attention" and "keep communication channels open", without putting "pressures" or fuelling "false hopes," said Fr Francesco Cereda, Vicar of the Rector Major of the Salesians.

It is important to “nurture hope through prayer,” he told AsiaNews, because “we know he is still alive” as Mgr Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, said a few days ago.

A Jihadi group, probably linked to the Islamic State (IS) group, seized Fr Tom Uzhunnalil on 4 March after storming a home for the sick and elderly run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden. Four sisters of Mother Teresa and 12 lay people present in the facility were killed in the attack.

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

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.

The Salesians and the Vicariate of Arabia have repeatedly denied such unconfirmed rumours; however, the latter have fuelled fears about the Indian priest’s fate. 

In view of the situation, the Salesian Family called on the faithful to pray for Fr Tom on Holy Thursday and during the main Easter celebrations.

Recently, Mgr Hinder had suggested that Fr Tom was "still alive" and that his release was imminent. However, since then, the initial optimism has become somewhat subdued because of the lack of positive developments.

Despite such uncertainty, it is important to pray and keep the story in the news, Fr Cereda explained. "The latest information comes from apostolic vicar, according to whom Fr Tom is still alive," he noted. Hence, “it is very important to focus on the story to ensure that public opinion does not forget it.”

At present, there are no plans for more days of prayer, but the Salesian Family continues to remember the Indian priest abducted in Yemen in other ways, in vigils and Masses.

"Every Thursday night, the General House here in Rome celebrates the Eucharistic adoration with this particular intention,” Fr Cereda said. “During a recent meeting in Malta we celebrated a Mass for his release."

“Mgr Hinder is in charge of the diplomatic activity work,” the vicar of the Rector Major of the Salesians said. “Our contribution is through prayers and remembrance.”

“To mark two months since his abduction, we just sent a letter to Fr Tom’s brother to express our closeness to the family and our hope for his immediate release. Unless we have bad news, we must hope and pray.”

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