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Indian Salesian priest recounts tale of capture, liberation

He spent most of his days praying for the pope, his bishop, his Salesian brothers

Indian Salesian priest recounts tale of capture, liberation

Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil reacts during a press conference on Sept. 16 in Rome, after been released by captors in Yemen. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
Vatican City

September 19, 2017

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Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil was sitting in a room in an unknown location -- one of several he had been relocated to during his 18-month imprisonment -- when he received some unexpected news.

"Those who kept me came to where I slept (and said), 'I bring you good news. We are sending you home. If you need to go to the bathroom, go. Take a shower, but quickly!'" Father Uzhunnalil told reporters Sept. 16 at the Salesian headquarters in Rome.

The Salesian priest from India was kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. On that day, four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack by uniformed gunmen.

"I thank God Almighty for this day, for keeping me safe, healthy, clear minded; my emotions were in control until now," he said after regaining his composure.

"I don't want to speak too much about the sisters because I get too emotional," he said.

Although reports following his kidnapping suggested the attack was carried out by the so-called Islamic State, Father Uzhunnalil said his captors never identified themselves.

"Why they did not kill me, why they didn't tie my hands, I don't know," he said. "Perhaps they wanted some ransom or whatever it is."

After leaving him in the trunk of the car, the militants ransacked the chapel taking the tabernacle, wrapping it with the altar linen and placing it near the kidnapped priest. With his hands unbound, Father Uzhunnalil carefully moved the linen and found "four or five small hosts," which he kept to celebrate the Eucharist the first few days of his capture.

After his short supply ran out, he said, he continued reciting the Mass prayers when alone despite not having bread and wine.

He spent most of his days praying for the pope, his bishop, his Salesian brothers, and "certainly those sisters, all those persons whom God had called" on the day of his abduction.

Father Uzhunnalil said he found consolation in the words of a hymn, "One day at a time, sweet Jesus."

On Sept. 11, Father Uzhunnalil was given the news of his liberation.

While he knows few details about arrangements for his release, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his gratitude to those who helped secure his liberation, including Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman, the government authorities of India, and the Vatican, including Pope Francis whom he met the day after his release.

Full story: Salesian priest recounts harrowing tale of his capture, liberation

Source: Catholic News Service 

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