CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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Priest abducted in Yemen rescued

HONG KONG (SE): Indian Father Tom Uzhunnalil of the Salesians of Don Bosco, who was abducted by Islamic State militants in Yemen on 4 March 2016, was finally freed on September 12 after 18 months in captivity. 

Oman’s state-run news agency ONA, reported that Omani authorities “in coordination with the Yemeni parties” rescued him.
 
Upon his release, the Salesian priest “expressed thanks to God almighty and appreciation to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos (of Oman).” He also thanked his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends who called on God for safety and release,” ONA reported on September 12.
 
Father Uzhunnalil was kidnapped from a home for the aged and disadvantaged run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack.
 
“We express our deep gratitude to God for the happy conclusion of this incident,” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, told the Fides news agency, on September 12.
 
He also expressed the bishops’ “immense gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to Sushma Swaraj, Minister of Foreign Affairs, for having worked tirelessly for the release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil. In several meetings, the foreign minister assured us that the (Indian) government would do everything possible to release him.”
 
Bishop Mascarenhas also thanked Pope Francis, “who has used all his influence” to ensure the Salesian priest’s release. 
 
A day after his release, Father Uzhunnalil was able to meet with the pope at his residence at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, L’Osservatore Romano reported.
 
He told Pope Francis that although he was unable to celebrate Mass, “every day, I would repeat to myself, in my heart, all the words of the celebration.”
 
Father Uzhunnalil said, “Truly, every day, I felt Jesus close to me. I always knew and felt in my heart that I was never alone.”
 
The Vatican issued a statement thanking “all those who worked for his release, and especially His Majesty the sultan of Oman and the competent authorities of the sultanate.”
 
The statement said Father Uzhunnalil would stay with the Salesian community in Rome for a few days before returning to India.
 
Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said she was “overwhelmed with joy for this good news.”
 
She told AsiaNews, “We never abandoned the hope that one day Father Tom would be released. His photograph is attached to Mother Teresa’s tomb. The sisters, the poor and the people prayed every day for his liberation. We give glory to God and thank all those who prayed and worked untiringly for the release of Father Tom.” 
 
Born in Kerala, India, the 56-year-old priest had been working in Yemen for the past four years as a chaplain to the sisters.

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