ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – A Catholic priest kidnapped in Yemen almost 10 months ago appealed for help in a video released this week by a terrorist group.
The Rev. Tom Uzhunnalil was kidnapped on March 4 in Aden, Yemen when a group of militants, thought to belong to an offshoot of the Islamic State (IS) movement, killed 16 people in an attack on the Aden Care Home, a nursing home facility.
In his statement on the video, which was released on Christmas Day, Uzhunnalil said he was kidnapped, “Because I was working for the Christian religion and the church.”
Uzhunnalil then went on to say he felt abandoned by his religious leaders and claimed that if he were a priest of European descent, his captivity would have been taken more seriously. The priest is a native of India.
“Nothing has been done by Pope Francis or the Bishop of Abu Dhabi to get me released, in spite of contact being made by my captors,” he said. “Dear Pope Francis, dear Holy Father, as a father please take care of my life.”
Uzhunnalil implored Christians in his native India to put pressure on authorities by using their “might to help me to safe my life … Please take care of my life.”
Before he was kidnapped, Uzhunnalil was clean-shaven. In the video he had a full beard and appeared weak and out-of-breath. Speaking hesitantly, he said his health was deteriorating and that he was “very sad and depressed.”
Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar of southern Arabia, told Morning Star News that Uzhunnalil appeared to be under duress when the video was made.
“Listening to the video, I got the impression that it has been produced under extreme pressure on Father Tom,” Hinder said.
He declined to comment further, citing ongoing efforts to secure Uzhunnalil’s release.
“It is part of the nature of such dramatic events that the steps undertaken cannot be revealed until their goal has been reached,” he said.
In a press statement on Tuesday (Dec. 27), vicariate officials said the church had made “countless appeals from the highest levels to secure his release.”
“Pope Francis made a heartfelt appeal to the kidnappers to release Father Tom on Sunday the 10th of April 2016, ‘In the hope given us by the Risen Christ, I renew my appeal for the liberation of all persons seized in areas of armed conflict: in particular, I desire to remember the Salesian priest, Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped at Aden in Yemen this past March fourth,’” the statement read.
The statement also mentioned the midnight Christmas Mass at the Cathedral Parish of St. Joseph’s in Abu Dhabi, where the bishop and tens of thousands gathered and prayed in silence for Uzhunnalil’s safety.
On March 4 at approximately 8:30 a.m., a group of militant Islamic extremists entered the nursing home in Aden and killed 16 people.
The Catholic news site Crux reported that the single survivor of the attack, a nun known as Sister Sally, said the gunmen first killed a guard and a driver at the home and then moved on to the four nuns. The militants then “tied them up, shot them in the head and smashed their heads” as others in the home screamed for the militants to show the nuns mercy, according to Crux.
The slain nuns were identified as Sister Anselm from India, Sister Judith from Kenya and Sisters Marguerite and Reginette from Rwanda.
The surviving sister escaped the attackers by hiding behind a door in a walk-in refrigerator.
During the attack, Uzhunnalil rushed to the chapel tabernacle in an attempt to consume all the sanctified hosts used in Communion, apparently to keep them from being desecrated, before he was abducted. The militants then set about destroying all the Christian symbols and liturgical articles in the tabernacle. The entire attack and kidnapping lasted 90 minutes, according to the nun.
Since the kidnapping, essentially no information about the safety or whereabouts of Uzhunnalil has been available. Weeks after the kidnapping, Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Cardinal Schonborn claimed publically that Uzhunnalil had been crucified on Good Friday. Photographs, allegedly of Uzhunnalil’s corpse, were circulated as evidence of his death, but research by Morning Star News showed the photos were actually from the funeral of another priest in the region who had just died.
According to indigenous missions support group Christian Aid Mission, .2 percent of Yemen’s 27.4 million people are Christians. Yemen consistently places high in studies ranking countries for their mistreatment of Christians. Plagued by low-intensity conflicts for years, the country plunged into a full-scale civil war in March 2015 along Shia and Sunni lines. Several terrorist groups, including IS and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have taken advantage of the power vacuum that exists in the country and have set up bases of operation.
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