India’s bishops urge government to help find Fr Tom
Following the circulation of widespread rumors that Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil was crucified on Good Friday, Indian bishops wrote to India’s Prime Minister and government , “soliciting their urgent intervention to ensure the safety of Fr. Tom” and urging greater effort in locating the priest.
In a 28 March letter addressed to India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, the Indian bishops wrote that the wide circulation of the “gruesome news” both at home and abroad of Fr Tom’s crucifixion “brings agony to the relatives” and arouses concern in everyone. The bishops added “It will be in the best interest of our country to step up the efforts to verify the veracity of this disturbing rumor.”
Noting that the Vatican had increased its efforts to find Fr. Tom through their diplomatic channels, the bishops requested that Swaraj “leave no stone unturned to ensure the safety and the quick release of Fr. Tom from the hands of the abductors.”
A delegation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) later met with Swaraj at her office and issued a statement after the meeting stating: “Ms. Sushma Swaraj has categorically assured the delegation that Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil is safe and that the Government is adopting all possible means for the quick and safe release of Fr. Tom. The Honorable Minister also said that the wild rumors being spread about any harm done to Fr. Tom, are totally baseless.”
Father Joseph Chinnaiyan, the deputy secretary of the CBCI, said: ”She has assured us Father Tom is safe and negotiations are on for his release which could happen very soon.” However Swaraj could not reveal specific details of the ongoing investigation and negotiations in order not to risk jeopardising the life of Fr. Tom.
The bishops said they had been in constant contact with the Indian government on the matter, and expressed their gratitude for the efforts the government of India has made in securing the release of abducted citizens.
Fr Tom was abducted during the brutal attack on 4 March on a Yemen retirement home during which 16 people including 4 nuns were killed. Since then, several blogs and newspapers have reported that Fr. Tom was crucified by Islamic State militants on Good Friday. However, there has been no confirmation of the event by friends, family, or Fr Tom’s community. Last week there was another rumour that ISIS had sent a video demanding a seven-figure ransom in return for Father Uzhunnalil’s safe return.
Bishop Paul Hinder, the Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia (whose territory serves Catholics in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen) said that he has “strong indications that Fr. Tom is still alive in the hands of the kidnappers,” but was unable to give further information, fearing it could endanger the life of the priest.