On Wednesday 13 September Pope Francis met privately in the Vatican with Father Tom Uzhunnalil, the Indian Catholic priest who was freed on Tuesday after his abduction by gunmen in Yemen last year.
The Holy Father met the Salesian priest at the papal residence of Santa Marta, after his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square. After being rescued, the 57-year old missionary was flown to the Omani capital, Muscat, from where he was flown to Rome, where he is recuperating in a Salesian community before heading home to India later.
On first meeting the Pope, Father Uzhunnalil went down on his knees kissing the feet of the Holy Father in profound reverence. The Pope reciprocated lifting Father Tom to his feet and kissing his hands. He embraced and encouraged the Indian missionary assuring him he would continue praying for him as he had been doing during his captivity. Pope Francis was visibly moved by the encounter.
Born in Ramapuram, in southern India’s Kerala state, Father Uzhunnalil belongs to the Bangalore Salesian province. He was abducted on 4 March 2016 when four unidentified gunmen attacked a care home in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden, killing 16 people including four Missionaries of Charity sisters of Mother Teresa. The 57-year old priest had been working for more than four years as a chaplain at the care home.
Father Uzhunnallil thanked the Pontiff saying he “prayed for him every day, offering his suffering for his mission and for the good of the Church.” The Salesian priest also said he was unable to celebrate the Eucharist while in captivity, but would recite “inside me and in my heart all the prayers of the Mass.”
The Indian priest said that he would continue praying for all who had been close to him spiritually. He particularly recalled the four Missionaries of Charity sisters of Mother Teresa and the other twelve people killed during the attack last year.
Father Uzhunnallil said he was particularly grateful to the government of Oman for obtaining his release. The Holy See, in a communique, has already expressed its gratitude to all those in obtaining his release, especially Oman’s ruler Sultan Qaboos and competent authorities of the sultanate.