Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest who was seized during a terrorist attack in Yemen on March 4, remains in the custody of unknown group who are likely Islamic extremists, his Salesian superiors announced. He was the chaplain of the nursing home in Aden run by the Missionaries of Charity. Four Sisters of Mother Teresa nuns were killed in the terrorist raid; the priest was kidnapped. Unconfirmed rumors spreading throughout the Internet claim he will be crucified on Good Friday, which is March 25.
"We hope the social media that gave the news, we hope it is really wrong. We hope it is not true. We hope and pray that because really it is not confirmed there's still no body who's claimed responsibility so we are not sure what is happening," Father Mike Pampara of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Gothenburg, Neb., told KNOP-TV. Pampara said he grew up with Uzhunnalil.
With Uzhunnalil still in Jihadi hands and nothing certain known about his fate, the Salesian Family asked for prayers for the victims of sectarian violence.
Vatican sources report they are "working toward a release."
However, the Salesian order dismissed as "baseless" the rumors that Uzhunnalil is being tortured, and that he would be crucified on Good Friday. "Nothing indicates that this is true," the order said. In fact, "nothing is known about his fate," reports Catholic World News on Monday.
For Holy Week, in particular, the Rector Major posted a video message on the Salesian website about praying for Uzhunnalil, along with the four sisters of Mother Teresa and 12 other people who were massacred in Aden during that raid, reports AsiaNews. An "intense moment of prayer on the evening of Holy Thursday, when we join with Jesus in the pain and loneliness of Gethsemane" was encouraged.
Uzhunnalil was born in Ramapuram, near Pala (Kottayam, Kerala) into a deeply Catholic family, cites AsiaNews. His uncle Matthew, who died last year, was also a Salesian, and the founder of the mission in Yemen. Father Tom has been in Yemen for four years.
Uzhunnalil is a 56-year-old priest from India. He was one of two Salesian priests who minister in Yemen. They are the only Catholic priests working in the country. They volunteered to serve after three others left at the advice of the Indian government due to the continued chaos in the country, Catholic sources indicate.
"People are willing to give even their life for a cause," said Father C.P. Varghese of Saint Patrick's Catholic Church in Nebraska, who said he worked in the same province with Uzhunnalil until he came to the United States.
Following is the prayer shared the Rector Major message for the martyrs of the faith and specifically for Father Tom:
My dear brother Salesians, My dear sisters and brothers of the entire Salesian Family throughout the world, Dear young people in different places of the Salesian world:
I send you my sincere greetings as we draw near to Holy Week and Easter. The purpose of this appeal is to invite you all wherever you are in the Salesian world, to make this, a time of intense faith and prayer.
And the reason is this: The pain which we are forced to undergo in so many parts of the world is too much, as so many people of different religions and confessions are suffering a real martyrdom.
In our Church, a large number of Christian men and women are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus.
The latest drama, as we well know, took place in Yemen, where several people were killed four Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa who died as martyrs, and other lay men and women who gave their lives for their faith, simply because they were there at the end, they also were martyrs, mowed down by a senseless violence.
We continue to follow with pain and with great concern, what is happening to our brother Tom, a Salesian of Don Bosco, who disappeared and about whom we have no news.
I also wish to express our closeness and our solidarity to his family while we implore from the Lord a deep peace that he may endure this moment trusting in the Lord Jesus.
Therefore, I invite everyone to spend a very intense moment of prayer on the evening of Holy Thursday, when we join with Jesus in the pain and loneliness of Gethsemane.
I sincerely hope that all our Salesian Family in the world and our young people in different places and at different times will be united in this one prayer: for peace.
We join with Pope Francis, who continually prays for this peace.
Let us implore peace from the Lord, and ask for infinite eternal peace for the martyrs and the extraordinary power of the Risen Lord for all who suffer so much pain and persecution.
Let us also remember our brother Tom.
Thank you for accepting this initiative and may the Lord bless you.
I greet you from my heart.