By Sarah Mac Donald - 13 September, 2017
Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, led prayers of thanksgiving at St Mary’s Basilica in Kochi on Tuesday following the release of Indian missionary Fr Tom Uzhunnalil after 18 months in captivity.
The Cardinal said the prayers of millions around the world had helped in the release of the Salesian missionary.
Fr Uzhunnalil, who is a member of the Syro-Malabar Church, was abducted on 4 March 2016 from Aden, the southern port city of Yemen. The militants responsible attacked the Missionaries of Charity home in the city, leaving 16 people dead, including four Missionaries of Charity nuns.
Some videos and photographs of the captured missionary did surface during the past 18 months and they showed him looking increasingly tired and pleading for help.
In the aftermath of his abduction, there had been some speculation that he would be crucified on Good Friday of 2016, prompting demands from around the world for his release.
Pope Francis was one of those who added his voice to the calls, appealing in April 2016 for all kidnapped persons in armed conflict zones and specifically for Fr Uzhunnalil.
According to Catholic News Agency, Fr Uzhunnalil’s release was secured by Oman. On his arrival in the Omani capital of Muscat, the priest “expressed thanks to God Almighty” following his release and also his gratitude to Sultan Qaboos for his role in securing his release.
The priest is due to spend a few days with the Salesian community in Rome before returning to Kerala in India.
For over two years, a civil war has raged in Yemen following an attempt by Shia rebels to bring down the country’s Sunni-led government. Both al-Qaeda and Islamic State have strongholds in the country, while Saudi Arabia has led a pro-government coalition.
According to the UN, over 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict since March 2015.