The Vatican (Tuesday May 9, 2017, Gaudium Press) Fourteen months after his kidnapping in March 2016, Salesian priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil has appeared in another video asking for help in obtaining his release, criticizing the response of a local bishop and the Indian government.
Opening with a word of thanks, Fr. Tom apparently references either a message he’s received, or the general concern surrounding his case.
“I received the message of concern that you sent to me, my dear family people. I’m thankful to you. Thank you very much,” he said in the video, published on YouTube May 8.
The video, which has not yet been authenticated, shows a cardboard sign with the date April 15, 2017, sitting on the lap of a thin-looking Fr. Tom, who appears with overgrown hair and a beard.
Speaking slowly in English, Fr. Tom said the Indian government has been contacted several times concerning his release. The bishop of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates has also been contacted, he said, claiming that he’s seen their responses, and they were “very, very poor.”
The priest indicated that he is in poor health, saying: “my health condition is deteriorating quickly, and I require hospitalization as early as possible,” he said.
He then made an appeal for his release, asking “my little family people” to do what they can “to help me be released. Please, please do what you can to help me be released. May God bless you for that.”
Fr. Tom was kidnapped in Yemen in March of last year during an attack on a Missionaries of Charity house that left 4 sisters dead. He garnered international attention last spring when rumors spread that he was to be crucified on Good Friday. Those rumors were later discredited.
A video was posted to YouTube Dec. 26, 2016, showing Fr. Tom personally appealing to Pope Francis, and bishops all over the world, for help.
“Dear Pope Francis…as a father, please take care of my life,” Fr. Tom said. The five-minute video was the first communication from Fr. Tom since his abduction. The priest had overgrown hair and spoke slowly from a prepared script.
Pope Francis did appeal for the priest’s release April 10, 2016, after his Sunday Regina Coeli address in St. Peter’s Square.
“I renew my appeal for the freeing of all kidnapped persons in armed conflict zones,” the Pope said. “In particular, I wish to remember Salesian priest Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Aden, Yemen last March 4.”
Since his kidnapping, Salesians in the Bangalore province of India have made continued efforts for his safety and release, including holding a prayer vigil Jan. 4 and a worldwide novena Jan. 15-23.
No one has claimed responsibility for the priest’s kidnapping, making it difficult for the Indian government to broker the priest’s release. In addition, the situation has been exacerbated by the political instability in Yemen.
Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since March 2015, when Shia rebels attempted to oust Yemen’s Sunni-led government. Saudi Arabia has led a pro-government coalition. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have set up strongholds in the country amid the power vacuum. More than 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations.