CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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Kidnapped priest believed still alive

NEW DELHI (UCAN): Father Thomas Uzhunnalil, the Indian Salesian who was kidnapped from the compound of a home for senior citizens run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen, on March 4 last year, is believed to still be alive.
 
The minister for foreign affairs and deputy prime minister from Yemen, Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi, told his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, during a visit to New Delhi on July 10 that he believes he is still alive and that his government is continuing its efforts to trace him.
 
Swaraj reiterated the concern of his government for the safety of Father Uzhunnalil and renewed its request for “continued assistance from the Yemeni authorities in securing his safe and early release.”
 
The 56-year-old, who was the chaplain to the house, was kidnapped when gunmen suspected of being Islamist terrorists stormed the compound killing 16 people, including four sisters.
 
An official press release from Al-Mekhlafi’s office says that Father Uzhunnalil is “alive and the Yemeni government has been making all efforts to secure his release. He assured all cooperation in this regard.”
 
In February this year, at least 60 children wrote to the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, seeking his intervention for the early release of Father Uzhunnalil, who hails from Kerala in southern India.
 
Church officials said they had not received any demands for ransom in the last year and are unaware of any motive or identity of the kidnappers, making their role in the rescue effort impossible.
 
Amid rumours of torture by Islamist militants, two videos have appeared on social media in which the Salesian asked for the help of the Church and Indian officials.
 
In the first video he requested that the Church maintain its efforts to secure his release without specifying any specific action. 
 
In the second, he said his captors had contacted the Indian authorities several times and the replies from the government, which he said he had seen, were “very, very poor.”
 
He says in the video, which is believed to be legitimate, “They also contacted the bishop of Abu Dhabi. There, too, the response was not encouraging. Neither the bishop nor the Indian government authorities asked them what they really want to get me released. It is a poor response and I am sad about that.”
 
Asking his family and friends to pressure the authorities, he said, “Please, please, do what you can to get me released. May God bless you for that.”
 
Swaraj thanked the Yemeni government for its whole-hearted cooperation and support in evacuating Indian and foreign nationals from the country in April 2015. 
 
The operation was the Indian government’s second-largest evacuation mission in recent times rescuing more than 6,000 people from war-torn Yemen.
 
The situation in Yemen worsened after a coalition of countries, led by Saudi Arabia, launched a military offensive against the anti-government Zaidi Shia rebels.

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