South Asia

Indian Christians plea to free priest from IS

Father Tom when held hostage

Indian Christians have called on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to personally intervene to free an Indian Priest, Tom Uzhunnalil, who  has been held by so-called Islamic State for almost a year.Indian Christians pleaded to the Indian Prime Minister to intervene for the freedom of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was held hostage by Islamic extremists on 4 March 2016 after four Catholic nuns including an Indian and 12 other people were massacred at a rest home for the sick and elderly of the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen, according to AsiaNews.

The All India Catholic Union (AICU), the largest lay Catholic organization in India, expressed their ever-rising concern for Fr. Tom and have appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for personally intervening in this matter.

The President of the AICU Lancy Da Cunha, under-signed the letter that states the anguish of the Christian community. As reported, Da Cunha said, “We ask for your personal intervention and assistance to ensure that he will return home as soon as possible and in complete safety. We hope and pray that you will support us”.

Around 60 children of San Juan Sunday School under the Kumbalanghi Sacred Heart parish, Kochi, Kerala have written

Children handing over their letters to K.V. Thomas

letters addressing them to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appealing for the early release of Fr Tom. The children have handed over these letters to the Minister of Parliament K.V. Thomas, who would in turn hand it over to the Prime Minister next week.

The Hindu, a national newspaper said, “The children wrote the letters with the help of their parents in Malayalam, English, and Hindi.”

The Christian community has made repeated requests to the Indian government, since the time of the abduction of Fr Tom. They await his release amidst assurances from the government of ‘talks’ being held.

External Affairs Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj tweeted on 6 March 2016 in response to the abduction saying, “Yemen is a conflict zone. We do not have Embassy there. But we will spare no efforts to rescue Father Tom Uzhunnalil.”

A month later The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) reported that a delegation had met Mrs Swaraj who said that the government was working to secure the priest’s safe return.

“She has assured us Father Tom is safe and negotiations are on for his release which could happen very soon,” Father Joseph Chinnaiyan, deputy secretary of the CBCI had told the media.

Fr. Tom appearing weak in the video

However a video first aired by news channels in Kerala, released a day after Christmas on 26 December 2016, showed Fr. Tom appearing weak, appealing to Pope Francis and the central government to secure his release from his captors. “If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously. I am from India. I am perhaps not considered of much value. Dear Pope Francis, dear Holy Father, as a father please take care of my life. I am very much depressed. My health is deteriorating.”

AICU in their letter stated “the surroundings are much more complex than other cases of kidnapping of Indians in Afghanistan….given the difficult situation in the region, we believe that the government of India, with its enormous capacity of influence and good relations in many Middle Eastern countries, is best placed to ensure effective intervention for the release of Fr Tom from his captivity.”

Da Cunha called on the Ministry for Foreign Affairs “to take all necessary measures to ensure his safety and freedom.”