Pope Francis Appeals to ISIS to Free Father Tom Uzhunnalil, Previously Thought Crucified

Father Tom Uzhunnalil
Father Tom Uzhunnalil |

Pope Francis and other Catholic bishops are praying for the release of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian priest thought to have been crucified by the Islamic State last month, in hope that radicals will be moved to change their ways.

"Dear brothers and sisters, in the hope given to us by the Risen Christ, I renew my appeal for the freeing of all kidnapped persons in armed conflict zones," the pope told the crowds in St. Peter's Square on Sunday at the Vatican.

"In particular, I wish to remember Salesian priest Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Aden, Yemen last March 4," he added.

Uzhunnalil's fate remains unknown more than a month after he was kidnapped during a terror raid on a Missionaries of Charity-run retirement home in Aden, Yemen, where suspected Islamic terrorists killed 16 people, including four nuns.

Although church officials have denied previous information that IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL) militants crucified the priest on Good Friday, the whereabouts and exact situation surrounding Uzhunnalil is still unclear.

The only information in recent weeks has come from Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who told the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India that efforts are being made for his safe release.

"Father Tom is safe and efforts are on for his release as early as possible," CBCI spokesman Fr. Gyanprakash Topno said, conveying the minister's words, adding that the "government will facilitate the priest's safe return to India."

His Exc. Mgr. Paul Hinder, OFMCap, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, told Fides News Agency that the hope amongst all this uncertainty is that the prayers will reach the terrorists who are holding the priest hostage.

"There is no news about the kidnapping of Father Tom. But the appeal Pope Francis launched for his release yesterday from St. Peter's square gave us comfort. Now we hope it also reaches the conscience of those who kidnapped him. This is now the important thing," Hinder said on Monday.

Mathew Uzhunnalil, the elderly brother of the kidnapped priest, said last week that he is also counting on prayers and leaving everything in God's hands.

"I am waiting for clear good news. Until then, I will stay at home," the brother told Catholic News Service last week.

"A lot of people are coming here (to the house) and even hold prayer meetings (for the safety of the priest)," he added, noting that he is spending time in prayer and reciting the rosary.

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