VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Indian
Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil,
who was abducted by Islamic
State militants in
Yemen and held captive for more than a year, was freed.
According to Oman's state-run
news agency ONA, Father Uzhunnalil was "rescued" by Oman authorities "in
coordination with the Yemeni parties."
Upon his release, the
Salesian priest "expressed thanks to God almighty and appreciation to His
Majesty Sultan Qaboos (of
Oman). He also thanked his brothers and sisters and all relatives and
friends who called on God for safety and release," ONA reported Sept. 12.
Father Uzhunnalil was
kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the
Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered
in the attack.
"We express our deep
gratitude to God for the happy conclusion of this incident," Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas,
secretary general of the Indian bishops' conference, told Fides, the news agency
of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Sept. 12.
He also expressed the
bishops' "immense gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to Sushma Swaraj, Minister of Foreign Affairs, for
having worked tirelessly for the release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil. In several
meetings, the foreign minister assured us that the (Indian) government would do everything
possible to release him."
Bishop Mascarenhas also thanked
Pope Francis, "who has used all his influence" to ensure the Salesian
After his release, the Vatican issued a
statement thanking "all those who worked for his release, and especially
His Majesty the sultan of Oman and the competent authorities of the
The statement said Father Uzhunnalil would stay with the Salesian community in Rome for a few days before returning to India.
Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries
of Charity, said she was "overwhelmed with joy for this good
"We never abandoned the
hope that one day Father Tom would be released. His photograph is attached to
Mother Teresa's tomb. The sisters, the poor and the people prayed every day for
his liberation. We give glory to God and thank all those who prayed and worked
untiringly for the release of Father Tom," Sister Prema told AsiaNews Sept. 12.
Born in Kerala, India, the
56-year-old priest had been serving in Yemen for the past four years as a
chaplain to the sisters.
Yemen has been experiencing a
political crisis since 2011 and is often described as being in a state of civil
war with members of the Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities vying for power; in
the midst of the tensions, terrorist groups have been operating in the country,
including groups believed to be associated with the so-called Islamic State and
Although most Christians have
fled the country, a handful of Salesian priests and about 20 Missionaries of
Charity chose to stay and continue their ministry.
When the situation in Yemen
began to deteriorate, two of the five Salesians, including Father Uzhunnalil,
decided to stay in the country along with a handful of other Catholics despite
the risks to their safety, Salesian
Father Francesco Cereda, vicar of the order's superior, told AsiaNews
March 10, 2016.
The murder of the four
Missionaries of Charity and Father Uzhunnalil's abduction was denounced by Pope
Francis as an "act of senseless and diabolical violence."
The pope continued to call for
Father Uzhunnalil's release
and "for the liberation of all people kidnapped in areas of armed
Following the anniversary of
his kidnapping, a video of the Salesian father was posted on YouTube by the
news site, Aden Time, May 8. Appearing heavily bearded and frail, Father
Uzhunnalil was shown seated with a cardboard sign on his lap with the date April 15, 2017. A similar
video was posted in December.
Without describing his
captors or referring to them as such, he said, "they are treating me well
to the extent that they are able."
"My health condition is
deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalization as early as possible,"
ONA published a picture of
Father Uzhunnalil "appearing in good health" following his release
and transfer to the Omani capital, Muscat.