He added that "the presence of Salesians was also a great support to the Missionaries of Charity."
Following the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, the already tenuous situation in Yemen became even worse. And the tension grew further when civil war broke out in 2015, with two factions both claiming to constitute the Yemeni government. The presence of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS only added to the chaos.
But despite the ever more fragile conditions in the country, the Salesians chose to remain in Yemen.
"The Salesians were fully aware that the situation was worsening day by day," Fr. Cedera said. "The Government of India had asked its nationals to leave the country after it had shut its embassy in Yemen and had brought back thousands of Indian nationals in 2014."
Fr. Cereda said that Archbishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar to Saudi Arabia, spoke in January 2015 with the Salesian province of Bangalore, India, to which the Mission of Yemen is entrusted.
"It was felt that pulling out of the mission all together would deprive it of the sole organized Catholic presence in the country," Fr. Cereda recounted.
However, "since it was felt that no one could compel anyone to remain in the given situation, the choice was left to the individual confreres in question."
"Out of five members, three returned to India and two stayed, with the hope of being of assistance especially to the Missionaries of Charity who had decided to stay on, as well as the few Catholics still working with them in their centers."
Fr. Tom was one of those who chose to stay, recognizing that his work was particularly risky, as he had to move from one community to another.
Beyond all the 'diplomatic' efforts underway to free Fr. Tom, prayers are being offered throughout the Salesian world for his speedy release.
"We believe that these efforts will not be in vain," Fr. Cedera emphasized. "However, in the highly fragmented society of Yemen, negotiations will definitely prove to be difficult, and we cannot predict how soon we will be able to achieve Fr. Tom's liberation."
(Story continues below)
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