Indian Foreign Minister: Fr. Tom is safe, soon to be released

Indian Foreign Minister: Fr. Tom is safe, soon to be released

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil. Credit: ANS Agenzia Info Salesiana.
Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil. Credit: ANS Agenzia Info Salesiana.

.- Fr. Tom Uznunnalil, the Indian Salesian priest kidnapped by extremists in March is alive and close to being released, according to Indian government officials.

AsiaNews reported Wednesday that Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj of India has said that Fr. Tom is “safe and that the "last efforts (are being made to) ensure his release."

The Asian news source also reports that the priest is not in the hands of the Islamic State but rather other “anti-government forces” in Yemen territory, possibly Shiite Houthi rebels, who have been battling the government army for more than a year, though there has been no confirmation of the group’s involvement in the incident.

Fr. Uzhunnalil, an Indian national, was abducted March 4 when four gunmen attacked a Missionaries of Charity-run retirement home in Aden, Yemen, killing 16 people, including four Missionary of Charity sisters.

During Holy Week, unsubstantiated rumors spread on social media that ISIS had captured Fr. Tom and were planning his torture and crucifixion on Good Friday.

The rumors continued when Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna allegedly confirmed the crucifixion during Easter Vigil services, causing Austrian and Polish media sources to believe the crucifixion had taken place.

Afterwards, Bishop Paul Hinder of Southern Arabia (whose apostolic vicariate serves Catholics in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen) told CNA that Cardinal Schönborn’s statement was based on an incorrect statement from Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore. Cardinal Schonborn has since corrected the alleged statement.

While some Indian Catholic sources are reporting that the priest’s release is “imminent,” Bishop Hinder still urges caution. He told AsiaNews that there are “no new elements” in the release of Fr. Tom, and urged prudence in order not to further put Fr. Tom in danger.

On March 28, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) wrote a letter to Swaraj, urging the Indian government to take greater efforts in locating the priest and for further information to clarify his whereabouts and to quell the rumors of crucifixion.

The minister then met with the CBCI and announced that the rumors of crucifixion were “baseless”, that Fr. Tom was still alive and that the government was “adopting all possible means” for the quick and safe release of Fr. Tom.

Tags: Persecuted Christians, Catholic News, Fr Tom Uzhunnalil

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