(Vatican Radio) The Indian Catholic Church has welcomed with immense joy and gratitude the news of the rescue of Indian Catholic priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil on Tuesday, following his abduction by unknown gunmen 18 months ago in Aden, Yemen. The 57-year old Salesian priest of Don Bosco arrived in the Omani capital Muscat in an air force plane soon after his release on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Catholic Bishops' Conference of India
“As we thank God for this unique grace bestowed on Fr. Tom and his family and the Salesian Congregation (The Society of Don Bosco) and the Catholic Church in India, we pray for his continued good health and complete recovery to resume active Salesian ministry for God and His people in his Congregation and the Church,” said a statement by Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, SFX, Secretary General, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), on Tuesday.
Born in Ramapuram, in Kerala state, Father Uzhunnalil belongs to the Bangalore Salesian province. He 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. The 57-year old priest had been working for more than four years as a chaplain at the care home.
Speaking on behalf of India’s Catholic bishops, the CBCI statement said, “As we express our profound gratitude to God, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India wants to place on record its immense gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Srimati Sushma Swaraj the Minister of External Affairs and the Government of India for persistently and perseveringly working to obtain the release of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil.” The bishops also thanked “Pope Francis who took personal interest in Fr. Tom’s release efforts and Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, the Bishop in charge of the Middle East, and the Sultan of Oman, for their untiring efforts, the Rector Major and the Salesian Provincial of Bangalore Province for their patience and strong faith.”
Fr. Joyce Thonikuzhiyil, the superior of the Salesian province of Bangalore, also thanked the government and the bishops for their efforts. He also thanked the family of the priest for “their strength in faith and for perseverance." He proposed that, in all Salesian Houses, a Mass of thanksgiving and half an hour of Eucharistic adoration be celebrated on Wednesday.
The Archdiocese of Bangalore will join the Salesians province of Bangalore and the archdiocesan branch of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), to celebrate an evening Mass on Thursday, 14th September, at Bangalore’s St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, to thank God for the release of Fr. Uzhunnalil, and also to pray for all those who were instrumental for his release, a note from the office of Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore said.
CBCI president, Cardinal Isaac Cleemis Thottunkal, the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, expressed his gratitude to all those who enabled the release of Fr. Uzhunnalil, especially the Indian and Kerala governments. “As a Church in India, we are grateful to Pope Francis and the Holy see for realizing our dream in getting the release of Fr Tom," Card. Cleemis, who is also CBCI president, told AsiaNews.
Meanwhile in Ernakulam, Kerala people flocked to St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Syro-Malabar Church on Tuesday to participate in a special thanksgiving service conducted after the release of Fr. Uzhunnalil. Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of Angamaly-Ernakulam and head of the Syro-Malabar Church to which Fr. Uzhunnalil belongs, said that prayers by millions across the world had helped in the release of the priest. Speaking after the special thanksgiving service, he thanked the Vatican and the Indian government for the efforts to get the priest released.
Sr. Mary Prema, Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, whose sisters had Fr. Tom as their chaplain in Aden, issued a statement saying, "I am overwhelmed with this good news. And I praise God for his Mercy.” She said, “We had never given up hope that one day father Tom would be released. His photograph is fixed on the tomb of mother. The sisters , the poor and the people have been praying daily for his release. We give all glory to God and we thank all those who prayed and worked tirelessly for father Tom's release".