Eight months after the kidnapping of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Yemen by suspected ISIS radicals, his congregation is urging the international community to continue praying for the missing priest and his release.
As earlier reported, Uzhunnalil, who was a member of the Silesian order in Bangalore, India, was seized when four armed militants stormed the facility for elderly people in Aden in Yemen. The gunmen killed 16 people, including four nuns in the brutal attack. The priest was the chaplain of the nursing home run by the Missionaries of Charity.
The plight of Uzhunnalil garnered international attention when rumors arose that he was to be crucified on Good Friday - the day of Christ's crucifixion. However, these rumors were later discredited, and nearly a year after his disappearance, there is still no definite news of him.
However, on Friday, the Salesians released a statement regarding the case, urging the international community not to forget the missing priest. Reads the statement, in part, "In the first few weeks there were countless appeals, vigils, and demonstrations of sympathy and solidarity - by simple Christians, the Missionaries of Charity, and many other male and female religious, the Conference of Bishops of Kerala State, and all of India. Even the Pope appealed for his release on April 10. The fact that nothing was happening meant that media attention naturally diminished."
It continues: "Eight months after those tragic events and the kidnapping of Fr. Uzhunnalil, the Salesian Congregation, starting from the Rector Major is again calling for attention to remain focused on the condition of this missionary and is asking all to continue to pray for him and his release."
No group has claimed responsibility for kidnapping the priest, but a nun who survived the attack attributed it to ISIS. She shared how evaded death by hiding behind a door while the ISIS fighters searched for her.
"They were killed one by one. They tied them to trees, shot them in the head and smashed their heads," reads her account, as reported by The Christian Post. "These ISIS men were everywhere, searching for her, as they knew there were five [nuns]. At least three times they came into the refrigerator room. She did not hide, but remained standing behind the door. They never saw her. This is miraculous."
In September, Bishop Paul Hinder requested prayers for Uzhunnalil: "I do not know how we can continue in the present situation," he said. "And pray for Father Tom, if he's dead or not. We don't know."
He added, "I invite you to pray for the priests and that others can unite to them. The mission in the state of war, despite the difficulty, must continue. Fr. Tom was abducted: he had returned to Yemen, asking me and the provincial for permission. I told him: 'If you want, I will help you enter my country.' Certainly today it's painful to think about," he said.
"But I am still convinced it was right. In war you can never predict what happens."