Salesians in India hold prayer vigil for release of Fr. Tom

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil. Credit: ANS Agenzia Info Salesiana.

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

The prayer vigil, confirmed to EWTN News 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 Fr. Joyce Thonikuzhiyil requested the 11 Salesian communities of South Asia to 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 of 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. “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 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 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-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.

Fr. Tom 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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