Indian Catholic News

Father Uzhunnalil arrives in Kerala, stresses mission

Appearing fragile and fatigued, Father Thomas Uzhunnalil was grateful of the support he has received.

Father Thomas Uzhunnalil (left) alongside Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridabad during a press conference in New Delhi after he arrived from the Vatican, Sept. 28. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)
New Delhi: 

Salesian Father Thomas Uzhunnalil — who was released over a fortnight ago after his 18-month-long captivity in Yemen — arrived in ancestral home in Kerala and thanked people for their prayers.

On Oct. 1 evening the priest arrived in his hometown Ramapuram in Kottayam and spoke at the reception accorded to him by his parish and Palai diocese.

Father Uzhunnalil arrived in the Indian capital following two weeks in Rome where he was taken after his release from suspected Islamic militants who abducted him on March 4, 2016.

Retired Bishop Joseph Pallickaparambil of Pali, who ordained him a priest, welcomed him to the Bishop’s House at Palai.He was then taken in a Jeep to him Ramapuram parish.

“The reception takes me to May 20, 1990. It was on May 21 that I was ordained a priest by Mar Pallickaparambil,” Father Uzhunnalil remembered.

“I had always believed that my calling was to serve the elderly and the weak at the Elders Home (in Yemen). After I was abducted I thought my mission was to pray for my captors wherever they took me. But know I know that my calling is to tell the world that there is a God and he is listening to your prayers and who would grant your prayers,” Father Uzhunnalil said.

On arrival in India, the 59-year-old priest first went to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India center where he met his elder brother and sister. He then attended a series of meetings with Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj before meeting papal nuncio in India, Archbishop ‎Giambattista Diquattro.

Appearing fragile and fatigued, Father Uzhunnalil later spoke with the media and thanked people of all faiths who prayed for his safety and release.

He said family members had told him that Hindu brethren in his hometown in the southern state of Kerala held prayers in temples for his safety. The local Muslim community also prayed for him.

"I was sure that there would [have been] a lot of people in the world praying for me," Father Uzhunnalil said. "I am not only the property of my family or the Salesians, but I understand now that I belong to the whole world," he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Father Tom Uzhunnalil in New Delhi on Sept. 28 not long after the priest's arrival from Rome. (Photo courtesy of the Press Information Bureau of Government of India)

Abduction and captivity

The priest said that he has no clue about any ransom being paid nor the identity of his abductors.

Suspected Islamic terrorists abducted Father Uzhunnalil after they attacked a home for the elderly operated by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden. The militants gunned down 16 people including four nuns. The priest served as chaplain at the home.

During the first days of captivity, his kidnappers asked him who would try for his release — the government, the bishops or the pope? Father Uzhunnalil told them he worked under the local Bishop Paul Hinder of Vicariate of Southern Arabia. "The rest I do not know," he said.

During the isolation of his captivity, Father Uzhunnalil said he managed to control his emotions.

"I did not fear, shiver or cry," he told media. "I had no fear of death, but I faced tremendous uncertainty."

Father Uzhunnalil said during his captivity he spent time "singing, reflecting and saying as many prayers as I could."

According to Oman's state-run news agency ONA, Father Uzhunnalil was "rescued" by Oman authorities "in coordination with Yemeni parties." Soon after his release, the priest met Pope Francis in the Vatican and spent two weeks in Rome resting and receiving treatment.

Celebrates Mass

On the day of his return to India, Father Uzhunnalil led an evening Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi along with several priests.

"Jesus may call you for a mission. Do not be afraid, he will lead you through … strengthen you. Listen to what he is asking of you and answer positively," Father Uzhunnalil said during the Mass in a choked voice.

Overwhelmed by emotion, he stopped twice and wiped away tears before continuing his message during the Mass.

The priest said his abductors did not hurt him because "of your loving prayers to God and the sacrifices you have made on my behalf, irrespective of religion."

Fourth among the seven siblings in the family, Father Uzhunnalil is scheduled to arrive at his home in Ramapuram in Kottayam district of Kerala on Oct. 1

Father Uzhunnalil was ordained a priest of Bangalore province in 1990. He went to Yemen in 2010.

Source: UCAN

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