Catholic priest abducted in Yemen safe: Indian minister

CBCI delegation with the minister

New Delhi: The Salesian priest abducted in Yemen is safe and delicate negotiations are on to get him released from Islamic militants, India’s External Affairs Minister told a Church delegation.

The minister, Sushma Swaraj, dismissed as “totally baseless” the rumors about harm done to Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil.

A five-member delegation from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) met the minister at her office Saturday evening and discussed all matters related to the release of Fr Uzhunnalil.

The 57-year-old Indian priest was abducted by suspected IS militants from Aden, Yemen’s southern port city, on March 4. The militants also gunned down 16 people who worked in a home for elderly managed by the Missionaries of Charity. Four of the victims were nuns, one from India.

The delegation expressed the Indian Church’s “deep concern and distress” over the fate of Fr. Uzhunnal, whose whereabouts are not known even after 29 days, says a CBCI press statement.

The delegation led by CBCI deputy secretary general Monsignor Joseph Chinnayyan requested the minister to clear the mystery over the priest’s abduction and share the truth about his current status, especially in view of rumors being spread at home and abroad.

News reports on March 28 quoted Austrian media to say that the priest’s abductors had crucified him on Good Friday.

Swaraj categorically assured the delegation that Fr. Uzhunnalil is safe and that the government is adopting all possible means for his quick and safe release. The minister further said the government cannot divulge the details of the negotiations and the technicalities involved as it would endanger the process of release itself.

She also shared with the delegation her ministry’s “strenuous efforts” to procure a safe passage for Sr. Rema, the nun who survived the March 4 attack in Yemen.

The delegation conveyed to the minister the Indian Church’s appreciation for her as well as the Indian government’s various efforts to trace and rescue Fr. Uzhunnalil.

Other members in the delegation were CBCI spokesperson Fr. Gyanprakash Topno; Caritas India Executive Director Fr. Frederick D’Souza; CBCI Secretary for Education Salesian Father Joseph Manipadam, and the secretary for CBCI Legal Matters, Advocate Jose Abraham.