MUMBAI, India – Salesian leaders in Asia have designated today, Jan. 4, as a special day of prayer for the release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian missionary serving in Yemen who was abducted by Islamic militants on this day ten months ago.
The initiative comes shortly after the release of a video showing a figure who appeared to be Uzhunnalil appealing to both the Indian government and the Church to do more to set him free.
Salesian superiors asked all their communities in south Asia to pray for Uzhunnalil on Wednesday, including celebrating a special votive Mass for those in captivity and also an hour of Eucharistic adoration.
“On Jan. 4, 2017, it will be ten months since the shocking and harrowing abduction of Father Tom Uzhunnalil,” a letter making the request says. “Ever since we have been incessantly praying and earnestly hoping for the safe release of Father Tom.”
Salesian superior Father Joyce Thonikuzhiyil called on communities to involve as many people as possible in the Jan.4 day of prayer, including “our own staff, boarders, parishioners, members of the Salesian family, well-wishers.”
“May the Lord answer without delay our joint supplication,” Thonikuzhiyil wrote.
Uzhunnalil was seized on March 4 after a militant Islamic group stormed into a home for the sick and elderly run by the Blessed Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of the Charity in Aden, in southwest Yemen. Four sisters and 12 lay people were killed in the attack.
Ever since, his fate has been the subject of speculation, including a rumor on Good Friday that the 56-year-old priest had been crucified by ISIS. That report, however, was quickly denied.
The day after Christmas, a five-minute video appeared online in which a bearded figure who appeared to be Uzhunnalil begs for his life, and suggests that the fact he’s Indian rather than European may be responsible for a lack of interest in his situation.
“If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously,” the man believed to be Uzhunnalil said. “I am from India. I am perhaps not considered as of much value.”
He then added an appeal directly to Pope Francis for help.
“Dear Pope Francis, dear Holy Father, as a father please take care of my life. I am very much depressed. My health is deteriorating,” he said.
The campaign to intensify efforts to secure Uzhunnalil’s release has also drawn support from his home state of Kerala in southern India, where members of the Communist Party of India have sent some 50,000 postcards to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his personal intervention in the case.
“Even nine months after the priest has been abducted, the government has not taken the issue seriously,” said a party secretary, announcing plans to hold a public protest on Jan. 5.