Denying rumors of an Indian missionary priest being crucified on Good Friday by Muslim extremists, India’s government has assured local bishops that Father Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped a month ago in Yemen, is alive and could be freed soon.
Uzhunnalil was taken by suspected militants of the terrorist organization ISIS who killed 15 people in an attack on the elderly home he was living in. Among those killed were four “Mother Teresa” nuns, who ran the compound that was attacked in March.
One of the Missionaries of Charity survived the attack, and she is the one who claimed the attackers were from the Islamic terrorist group. However, no group claimed responsibility for the killings nor for the kidnapping.
Rumors about Uzhunnalil, a member of the Salesian religious order, having been crucified spread on Good Friday after Austrian papers reported that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna had allegedly confirmed the report as he was celebrating the day’s liturgy.
Soon after, the Indian bishops denied the rumors, saying there was no confirmation the crucifixion had happened. However, unsure of what the truth was, on March 28 they sent a letter to Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, who on Saturday said that speculation about Uzhunnalil’s crucifixion was baseless.
Local newspapers reported on Sunday that officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) met with Swaraj, who said the government was working to secure the priest’s safe return.
“She has assured us Father Tom is safe and negotiations are on for his release which could happen very soon,” said Father Joseph Chinnaiyan, deputy secretary of the CBCI, according to First Post.
Initial rumors of Uzhunnalil’s Good Friday crucifixion had emerged on March 20, when the Franciscan Sisters of Siessen, a religious group based in South Africa, shared a post on Facebook saying they’d received information that the priest was being tortured after his capture and that he would be crucified on Good Friday.
The group wrote on their page: “Was informed that the Salesian priest, Father Tom who was kidnapped from the Missionaries of Charity Home in Yemen is being tortured and is going to be crucified on Good Friday. This calls for serious concerted prayers from all of us.”
They deleted the post a few days later, but by then more than 115,000 people had shared the post. Schönborn’s comments, although later retracted, led Austrian and Polish media to believe the rumor was true.
However, Swaraj told the bishops on Saturday that the Salesian priest abducted in Yemen is safe and delicate negotiations to guarantee his safe release are ongoing.
UCA News reported that through its diplomatic channels, the Vatican is also working to locate the priest and secure his release.