Thousands Pray For Indian Priest Kidnapped By Islamists
Thousands of people across India held a special day of prayer this weekend for the release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, the priest who was kidnapped by Islamists last year in Yemen.
"We prayed that Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil may soon be free and safe," said Rev Thomas Jacob, of St. Stephen's Church in Bandra to Asia News.
Dioceses throughout India prayed over the weekend following a request by the president of the Bishops' Conference.
Father Thomas Toretkiu, secretary to the bishop, said that the Church in India is "worried and distressed about the fate of Father Tom."
Uzhunnalil, from Bangalore in India and a member of the Salesian order, was kidnapped by gunmen who murdered four Indian nuns, two Yemeni female staff members, eight elderly residents and a guard at a nursing home in Aden, Yemen, on 4 March 2016.
Some reports suggest the attackers were members of ISIS, but this has not been verified.
In the aftermath of the abduction, rumours spread online that his captors would crucify him on Good Friday, but no evidence for the claim was ever produced and both his superiors and the Indian government consistently denied it.
A video released in December by his captors showed Uzhunallil looking frail and pleading with the government and Pope Francis for his release. He said he is "very sad and depressed" and that not enough is being done because he is Indian and not European.
"If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously. I am from India. I am perhaps not considered as of much value," he said.
He added: "Nothing has been done by Pope Francis or the Bishop of Abu Dhabi to get me released, in spite of contact being made by my captors... Dear Pope Francis, dear Holy Father, as a father please take care of my life. I am very much depressed. My health is deteriorating."
India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) responded to the video, saying: "You are aware of the circumstances currently prevailing in Yemen where fighting is going on with no central authority in that country. With regard to safe release of Father Tom who was abducted some months ago, we have been in regular touch with countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia as also the local Yemeni authorities. Efforts continue in this regard."
External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Twitter: "I have seen the video from Fr. Tom. He is an Indian citizen and the life of every Indian is most precious for us. We have spared no effort and we will spare no effort to secure Fr Tom's release from captivity."