Pope Francis appeals for release of captive Salesian Fr Tom Uzhunnalil

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Fr Tom Uzhunnalil
Fr Tom Uzhunnalil

Pope Francis appealed for the release of all people being held captive in battle zones, including Salesian Fr Thomas Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Yemen.

“I renew my appeal for the liberation of all people kidnapped in areas of armed conflict,” the pope said after praying the Regina Coeli with pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square on 10 April.

“In particular, I want to remember Salesian Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, abducted in Aden in Yemen on 4 March,” the pope said.

Fr Uzhunnalil was kidnapped from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack.

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.

When the situation in Yemen began to deteriorate, two of the five Salesians, including Fr Uzhunnalil, decided to stay in the country with a handful of other Catholics despite the risks to their safety, Salesian Fr Francesco Cereda, vicar of the order’s superior, told AsiaNews on 10 March.

The Salesians, he said, have been in Yemen since 1987, the only priests working in the Muslim-majority nation. “We understood that if everyone left, we would have been deprived of the only organised Catholic presence in Yemen,” Fr Cereda had said in March.

The Holy See, the Indian government, India’s Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Salesian community were all working to secure the priest’s release, he said.- cns