A year after an Indian Salesian priest was abducted by suspected Islamic militants in the strife-torn Yemen, Catholics in his home state of Kerala are losing hope for his release.
Father Thomas Uzhunnalil was taken by a group of armed men who stormed a home for the elderly run by Missionaries of Charity nuns in Aden, on March 4, 2016. During the incident the gunmen murdered 16 people, including four Catholic nuns.
Even after one year, "we don't know who kidnapped the priest and where they have taken him. The government of India and the Vatican have been trying their best to secure his release. Sadly, these efforts have failed to produce any results so far," said Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis of Trivandrum, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.
The cardinal, who is based in Kerala, was addressing a public meeting and prayer program organized by the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council and the local province of the Salesians of Don Bosco congregation at Ernakulam town hall on March 4. Several such programs were organized across the state, marking a year since they first started campaigning for the priest's release.
The cardinal referred to a video circulated on social media in which a man who looks like the priest accuses church officials and the Indian government of not doing enough to get him released.
Cardinal Cleemis said a priest, "who went to the trouble-torn country on the call of God" would not blame the church.
"We cannot blame the government as the situation in Yemen is still volatile and India has no fully-fledged diplomatic mission there. What we can do at this juncture is to pray to God to give strength to the priest to face the situation," he added.
Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamalay, who is based in Kerala, said that the abduction of Father Thomas was part of God's plan. "The torture he suffers will definitely deepen his faith and strengthen the church," he said.
"The suffering of Jesus Christ was God's plan. It led to the repentance of many and the growth of the church. Similarly, Father Tom's suffering will force evil forces to repent and result in the deepening of faith," the cardinal said.
The anniversary was also marked by prayers and protests in various parts of the state, where Christians account for six million of a total population of 33 million. Hundreds of people joined the priest's relatives at his ancestral home at Ramapuram in Palai Diocese for a day-long fast and public meeting.
Father Thomas' brother, David Uzhunnalil, said that the family was aware of the complexities of the issue.
"Nobody has been able to speak to him directly since the abduction. We don't even know what his condition is. We hope the government and the church will step up efforts and we are able to see him back in the country," he said.
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