Pope Francis greets and hugs Father Tom Uzhunnalil after his release
Pope Francis has met Fr Tom Uzhunnalil at the Vatican following the priest's release from captivity in Oman after more than a year in the hands of Islamist militants.
He was kidnapped when militants attacked the nursing home where he was working in Yemen, killing 16 people including four nuns.
Uzhunnalil was flown to Rome to recover at the headquarters of the Salesian order to which he belongs before returning to his home in India. The order's spokesman Fr P Varghese said: 'The need of the hour now is rest and recuperation for Uzhunnalil, as his health has to be taken care of.'
He met Francis on Wednesday at the Casa Santa Marta, kissing his hands and the ground at his feet. According to Vatican newspaper's Osservatore Romano, Francis hugged him and told him he had been praying for him.
The Vatican press office released a statement following his release saying: 'The Holy See fervently thanks all those who worked for his release, and especially His Majesty the Sultan of Oman and the competent authorities of the Sultanate.'
India Churches and Church bodies have welcomed the release of Uzhunnalil, whose imprisonment was overshadowed by unfounded but widely shared rumours that his captors planned to crucify him. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India expressed its gratitude to the Indian government for its persistence and perseverance in working to obtain the release of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil and Pope Francis who took a personal interest in his case.
Sister Mary Prema, Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, the order to which the murdered nuns belonged, issued a statement saying: 'I am overwhelmed with this good news. And I praise God for his mercy.'
She said: 'We had never given up hope that one day father Tom would be released...The sisters, the poor and the people have been praying daily for his release. We give all glory to God and we thank all those who prayed and worked tirelessly for father Tom's release.'