More than a month after the kidnapping of Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar, S.J. near the Afghan city of Herat, his order continues to advocate for his release.
“During this painful time, we have worked quietly to resolve this difficult situation. We have been in close contact with the Afghan authorities and the Indian Consul General in Herat, Afghanistan,” Fr. Peter Balleis, S.J., international director of Jesuit Refugee Service, stated July 7.
“Although we still have not heard from him or his captors, we live in hope. All the information we have continues to suggest that he is alive and he remains in Afghanistan.”
Fr. Kumar, 47, is from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and is Afghanistan director for Jesuit Refugee Service; he was abducted June 2 while accompanying teachers on a visit to a school for refugees in the village of Sohadat, some 500 miles west of Kabul.
“We remain committed as well to doing everything in our power to ensure Fr Alexis Prem Kumar's safety,” Fr. Balleis said, “and hope that by the end of Ramadan those who have taken him will release him as a festive Eid al-Fitr gift.”
The fasting month of Ramadan in Islam is concluded by Eid al-Fitr, a holiday during which Muslims are particularly encouraged to forgive one another and to make gifts of charity to the poor. Eid al-Fitr will fall this year on or around July 28.
“This past month has been a painful time for Prem's family, his Jesuit confreres across the world, and for all of us in JRS,” Fr. Balleis stated. “We are grateful for the outpouring of prayerful support that we have received from many quarters … we are particularly grateful to the advice and assistance offered by several humanitarian aid agencies.”
“These past weeks have, without a doubt, been trying and difficult ones for Prem. We are concerned about his health, but know that his spiritual strength and personal warmth will guide him through this trial.”
Fr. Balleis lamented that June's presidential election in Afghanistan could make securing Fr. Kumar's release “more complicated than we had imagined.”
The Jesuit Refugee Service international director noted that the school in Sohadat will re-open when Fr. Kumar is released, and added that they have already re-opened most of their educational programs in Afghanistan.
“We remain committed to accompany our Afghan students and their families in their desire for quality education and re-opening our schools is a clear sign of that commitment.”
Jesuit Refugee Service provides education, health care, and social services to more than 500,000 refugees and internally displaced persons annually; Fr. Kumar has been working with them in Afghanistan since 2011.
In 2013, the agency assisted more than 6,000 Afghans who were returning from Iran and Pakistan, working in Kabul, Herat, Bamiyan, and Day Kundi. Fr. Kumar has been in Afghanistan since 2011.
He hails from the town of Variyanvayal, located fewer than 18 miles northeast of Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu, and belongs to the Madurai province of the Society of Jesus.
He attended secondary school in Devakottai, and studied theology in Chennai and Delhi.
Before his time in Afghanistan, Fr. Kumar had worked with Sri Lankan refugees and with indigenous peoples and dalits in Tamil Nadu.
Many tribespersons and volunteers in Kodaikanal, where Fr. Kumar served at Sacred Heart College from 2001-2006, have offered prayers and had Masses said to procure his safe release.
His family have appealed to the Indian government to assist in locating and securing the priest, and Tamil Nadu's chief minister has written to the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, on his behalf.
A friend who attended school with Fr. Kumar said he had wanted to serve others since childhood.
“He used to talk about the plight of poor and downtrodden people when other students would be discussing cinema,” A. Thadeus told the Times of India.
Fr. Kumar's brother, Manoharan, said through NDTV: “I appeal to all in Afghanistan with folded hands, whoever it may be, to release my brother Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar as early as possible so that the agony what we are going through may end.”