ROME – India’s Foreign Minister tweeted out on Tuesday that Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a missionary priest kidnapped by Islamic militants in Yemen in September 2016 at a home for the elderly in the southern port city of Aden, has been released.
Uzhunnali was kidnapped during an attack on the missionary compound in which gunmen posing as relatives of one of the residents at the home burst inside, killing sixteen people, including four Indian nuns belonging to the Missionaries of Charity, the order of founded by Mother Teresa.
According to reports, Uzhunnali is presently in Oman. According to a Vatican statement late Rome time on Tuesday, he will spend a few days in Rome in a community of his Salesian order before returning to India.
“The Holy See fervently thanks all those who worked for his release, and especially His Majesty the Sultan of Oman and the competent authorities of the Sultanate,” the Vatican statement said.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, who insisted during recent months that the Indian government knew who was holding Uzhunnalil and was engaged in negotiating for his freedom, tweeted out Tuesday that the priest had been released.
“I am happy to inform that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil has been rescued,” she said.
A daily newspaper in the Gulf country, Oman Observer, reported that the priest thanked God Almighty and expressed gratitude to Sultan Qaboos of Oman for securing his release. Uzhunnalil reportedly also thanked his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends.
In a video released last May, apparently by his abductor, Uzhunnalil pleaded for help. “They are treating me well to the extent they are able,” he said, speaking slowly in English, and seeming obviously emaciated.
“My health condition is deteriorating quickly, and I require hospitalization as early as possible,” he added in the recording. The date “April 15, 2017” was written on cardboard pasted on his body.
The priest said his kidnappers had contacted the Indian government and the Catholic bishop in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates with their demands.
“My dear family people, do what you can to help me be released. Please, please do what you can to help to get me released. May God bless you for that,” he said.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis told Crux on Tuesday, “God has answered our prayers. We thank the Government of India. The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs took personal interest in securing the release of Fr Tom.”
Sister Mary Prema Pierick, the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said she was overwhelmed by the good news.
“I praise God for his Mercy,” Prema said in a statement. “We had never given up hope that one day father Tom would be released.”
She said the priest’s photograph had been put on the tomb of Mother Teresa, and the sisters of the order had been praying for his release each day.
“We give all glory to God and we thank all those who prayed and worked tirelessly for father Tom’s release,” Prema said.