By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
NEW DELHI/SANAA (BosNewsLife)– Christians in the Arabic Peninsula have urged prayers for an Indian priest abducted in Yemen by Islamic militants on March 4, 2016, as New Year’s Day was overshadowed by uncertainty over his condition and whereabouts. The appeal came after priest Tom Uzhunnalil was seen begging for his life in video footage published by social media, a day after Christmas.
Uzhunnalil, from the town of Ramapuram in India’s state of Kerala, appeared very weak and at times was gasping for breath as he appealed to Pope Francis, India’s government and other governments to secure his release.
The priest was abducted when terror group Islamic State attacked an old-age care home run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity group in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, killing 16 people. Among the victims were four missionary sisters (two from Rwanda, one from India and one from Kenya) and several of their helpers, including some from Ethiopia and some Yemeni Muslim staff, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Uzhunnalil, who served in Yemen for over four years, was reportedly staying at the care home at the time of the raid when he was abducted by the militants. In a posted video, the priest condemned the apparent reluctance to save him. “If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously,” he stressed in the roughly five-minute-video.
“I am from India. I am perhaps not considered as of much value,” added the 59-year-old. “Dear Pope Francis, dear Holy Father, as a father please take care of my life. I am very much depressed. My health is deteriorating,” the priest said.
He claimed his captors made “many” contacts with India’s government, including the prime minister and president, but said he was “very sad that nothing has been done seriously” to rescue him. “Reports have been there in the news that everything is being done to release me quickly. But in reality nothing seem to have happened. I am very sad and depressed. I request also my fellow Christians in India, the bishops and priests, to do their might to help me to get released and save my life,” Uzhunnalil added.
The priest also cited the incident of a French reporter abducted in the Middle East, who was later released. “I am from India and not considered,” he noted. “Dear people, I pray you all, ask you all, beg you all to do your might to help me to save my life. I need hospitalization soon. Please come to my help quickly,” Uzhunnalil said.
India’s government said efforts are being made to secure Uzhunnalil’s release but added that such attempts take time. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj told Indian media he had informed Parliament that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has spoken to various countries through which contacts can be established in Yemen.
Relatives of the priest have expressed concern about his situation. Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, has led calls for continued prayer for the priest’s release.
In a statement distributed by advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC), Christians from the region asked prayers that the priest “will know the Lord’s presence, peace and protection, and that efforts to establish his whereabouts and to secure his release will soon be successful.”
They also said it was crucial for supporters to pray that “all bereaved and traumatized by the murders at the care home will know the Lord’s comfort and healing” and that “the perpetrators of the murders and abduction will know the Spirit’s conviction of their sin, and seek the Father’s forgiveness and new life through the Son [Jesus Christ]”
MEC also urged prayers that “Christians in Yemen will know the Lord’s protection and guidance in every aspect of their life and witness” and that “peace and justice will be restored in Yemen, and humanitarian aid will reach all who are in need.”
It comes amid wider concerns about growing Islamic attacks against Christians in Yemen and other areas.
Pope Francis made an appeal to the kidnappers to release in April. “In the hope given us by the Risen Christ, I renew my appeal for the liberation 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 4,” he said.
That appeal came shortly after India’s government denied reports that the kidnapped Catholic priest was crucified on Good Friday. Several other Christians have however been crucified or otherwise tortured by the Islamic State group.