Salesians Hold Prayer Vigil for Release of Kidnapped Priest

Father Tom Uzhunnalil was taken in Yemen on March 4, 2016.

Father Tom Uzhunnalil
Father Tom Uzhunnalil (photo: ANS, Agenzia Notizie Salesiane/Salesian News Agency via CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Salesians in the Bangalore province of India held a prayer vigil Jan. 4 for the release of Salesian priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen March 4, 2016.

The prayer vigil, confirmed to CNA by the Salesian province of Bangalore, marks 10 months since the priest’s abduction during an armed attack on a Missionaries of Charity-run retirement home in Aden, the provincial capital of Yemen.

Bangalore provincial superior Father Joyce Thonikuzhiyil requested the 11 Salesian communities of South Asia mark Jan. 4 as “a day of prayer, with an hour of Eucharistic adoration” for the purpose of “intensifying our prayerful efforts” for the safe release of the priest, according to religious news site “Matters India.”

The day of prayer comes after a video was posted to YouTube Dec. 26, showing the kidnapped priest 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,” Father Uzhunnalil said. “My health is deteriorating; I am in need of hospitalization soon. Please come to my help quickly.”

The five-minute video was the first communication from the priest since his abduction. The video showed him with overgrown hair, and he spoke slowly from a prepared script.

Pope Francis did appeal for the priest’s release April 10, after his Sunday Regina Caeli 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.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The Indian government has reportedly had difficulty brokering for the priest’s release because of political instability in Yemen.

Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since March of 2015, when Shia rebels attempted to oust Yemen’s Sunni-led government. Saudi Arabia has led a pro-government coalition. Both al-Qaida 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.

Father Uzhunnalil garnered international attention last spring when rumors spread that he was to be crucified on Good Friday. Those rumors were later discredited.

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