(Vatican Radio) Abducted Indian Catholic priest, rescued on September 12 after 18 months of captivity in Yemen, said on Saturday that he was never subject to any physical violence or harm, even though his captors feigned violence in videos only to obtain a ransom or quick response from authorities.
Appearing weak after losing 30 kilograms in captivity, Salesian of Don Bosco Father Tom Uzhunnalil showed a strong spiritual force and clear mind within at the press conference at the Salesian headquarters in Rome, September 16. The 59-year old priest spoke in English helped by an interpreter in Italian.
They took care of all his needs
The priest said his captors provided him insulin and tablets to treat his diabetes and took care of his basic needs. He said he slept well, both at night and during the day, and never ever wept. He was transferred several times during his captivity, but he doesn't know where he was held. His captors kept their faces covered in his presence, he said.
Father Uzhunnalil, who belongs 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. Fr. Tom had been working for more than four years as a chaplain at the home.
God has been extremely kind
Visibly moved on seeing a group of Missionaries of Charity sisters in the hall, Fr. Uzhunnalil's voice broke recalling those who were killed in the care home. “I thank God almighty for this day. He saved me healthy enough. Clear mind. Emotions under control until now,”' he said. ``God has been extremely kind to me. No gun was pointed at me,'' he said. When the home the elderly in Aden was attacked, he identified himself as an Indian and he was brought to another room “while they killed the others.”
Clean-shaven and with a haircut, Fr. Uzhunnalil looked a different picture from the gaunt figure with flowing white beard and hair in the video and photos of him that Oman’s state news agency released after his liberation.
The priest said he had been transferred from Yemen by car to Oman, and then brought by air to the capital before being flown to Rome where he is staying with the Salesian community in the Vatican.
The priest said he didn't know his kidnappers' identities or affiliations and from the interrogations he believed their motive was ransom. However, Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, the Rector Major or head of the worldwide society of the Salesians of Don Bosco, who was present at the press conference, said they had no information about any ransom having being paid. ``No one ever told us that they asked for money. No one asked us for even a Euro,'' Fr. Artime said. `'We don't know anything about this. This is the whole truth. And I believe that Father Tom knows even less,'' he said.
The details of the release were not known, although the Vatican has thanked the Sultan of Oman in a statement and Fr. Uzhunnalil thanked Omani officials and leaders in his native India.
Even though he could not celebrate Mass during his captivity, the priest said he used to pray the Eucharist reciting the Mass prayers from memory. With a lot of time at his disposition, he said, he gave himself to much prayer and prayed for everyone – Pope Francis, bishops, fellow Salesians, family members, relatives, friends, including his abductors.