Kidnapped Indian priest, Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, has been freed after almost 18 months in captivity, the Bishops' Conference of India has confirmed.
"Fr Tom is free and is now on his way to the Vatican," Bishop Thedore Mascarenhas, Secretary General of the Bishops' Conference of India, told Fides News Agency today (12 September).
"First of all, we express our deep gratitude to God for the happy conclusion of this incident. We must then thank the Indian government, which put into place every effort for the release of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil," added Bishop Mascarenhas.
The Salesian priest was kidnapped on 4 March, 2016, after suspected Islamic terrorists stormed a home for elderly people managed by the Missionaries of Charity nuns in the port city of Ade, Yemen. The assailants shot dead 16 people, including four nuns, before kidnapping the priest, who served as chaplain of the house.
Father Uzhunnalil belongs to Salesians of Don Bosco's Bangalore province. He had been working as a missionary under Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia.
Bishop Mascarenhas told Fides that negotiating the release had been "a difficult and very delicate incident to handle."
"Only God's Providence and His blessing managed to lead to a happy outcome. Millions of people prayed in the world for the release of Fr Tom and today we can tell everyone: this is the power of prayer"," he added.
The Secretary General then expressed deep gratitude to Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, under whose jurisdiction Yemen is situated who he said kept in "constant hope" that the Fr Tom would be released.
"We pray for the full recovery of Fr Tom, sure that he will be able to resume his priestly and pastoral ministry, dedicating himself to God and his people. His release really gives immense joy to the whole Church in India," concluded Bishop Mascarenhas.
A statement released this morning by the government of Oman corroborates the released. The statement adds that Fr Tom has been transferred to Muscat, and is awaiting his flight home.
In a video message posted on 8 May 2017 on YouTube, a bearded and very thin Fr Tom, pleaded for the Indian government and the Catholic Church to do more to secure his release. A similar video was posted in December last year. Pope Francis has prayed for the kidnapped Salesian on several occasion, including on 3 May when he met with a group of Salesian novices in Rome.
PICTURE: A screenshot of Fr Tom in a video message released in May 2017