(Vatican Radio) An Indian Catholic priest abducted by unknown gunmen in Yemen last year, has been freed after 18 months of captivity, the Indian government said on Tuesday. External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Sept. 12 on Twitter that Father Tom Uzhunnalil had been rescued but gave no details.
However, the state-run Oman News Agency (ONA) posted a photo of the Salesian of Don Bosco priest in good health after being transferred to the Omani capital Muscat. Oman and Saudi Arabia share their borders with Yemen.
Father Tom, a native of Kerala state belonging to Bangalore Salesian province, was abducted on March 4, 2016 when four unidentified gunmen attacked a care home in Yemen's southern port city of Aden, killing 16 people including four Missionaries of Charity sisters of Mother Teresa. There were around 80 residents at the home at the time of the attack.
Fr. Tom had been working for more than four years as a chaplain at the home in southern Yemen established by the nuns.
The Oman Observer, quoted ONA in its September 12 online edition saying Father Tom "expressed thanks to God Almighty" following his release. "In compliance with the His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Oman in coordination with the Yemeni parties have managed find a Vatican priest. He has been transferred to Muscat from where he will return to his home in Kerala. Tom Uzhunnalil, a Vatican priest, expressed thanks to God Almighty and appreciation to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. He also thanked his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends who called on God for safety and release," ONA said.
Barely a month later after the abduction, Pope Francis appealed for the release of all people in conflict areas, especially singling out the Indian priest. “In the hope given us by the Risen Christ, I renew my appeal for the release of all persons seized in areas of armed conflict: in particular, I desire to remember the Salesian priest, Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped at Aden in Yemen this past March 4th,” the Pope said in Eastertide midday ‘Regina Coeli’ prayer in the Vatican on April 3, 2016.
Indian government's efforts
The Indian government had repeatedly said that it was in regular contact with Yemeni and Saudi authorities regarding the release of the priest. During a meeting with an Indian Salesian Delegation in New Delhi, Aug. 17, Swaraj assured that Fr. Tom could be released soon.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia (AVOSA) that oversees the Catholic Church in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Yemen, also announced Fr. Tom's rescue saying, "He is now in safe hands." It said, Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Paul Hinder "thanks all those who were involved in the release efforts and all those all over the world who prayed unceasingly for the safe release of Fr. Tom." The Vicariate said "more details are awaited and will be released as and when available."