Pope Francis has met with the Indian priest who was held by Islamic militants in Yemen for 18 months.
The Indian government announced on Tuesday that Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil – a missionary priest kidnapped in Yemen on March 4, 2016, at a home for the elderly in the southern port city of Aden where he served as a chaplain – had been released.
He arrived in Rome on Tuesday evening to recuperate at the Salesian headquarters before returning to India.
Uzhunnalil 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.
He met with Francis on Wednesday in the Casa Santa Marta, immediately following the general audience.
Uzhunnalil was accompanied by the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who was in Rome for the meeting of the C9 Council of Cardinals.
According to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, the priest kissed both the pope’s hands and the ground at his feet when he greeted the pontiff. Francis hugged the priest, and told his that he was praying for him during his captivity.
Uzhunnalil told the newspaper that during his captivity, although the was not able to celebrate Mass, he internally said the words every day. He also said he prayed especially for the four nuns killed in the attack.
After his release, the Vatican press office released a statement saying, “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.”