No information yet on Father Uzhunnallil, says church

Bengaluru, April 1 (IANS) There is still no information about the fate of Indian priest Father Thomas Uzhunnallil, who was abducted by IS terrorists in Yemen last month and allegedly crucified by them, said a official of his Catholic order on Friday.

“We do not have any information and updates on Father Thomas Uzhunnallil,” Father Jose Koyickal, the vice provincial of the Indian Salesian Order of Don Bosco’s Sacred Heart Province of Bengaluru – to which Uzhunnallil belongs, told IANS.

He said the unconfirmed news of Uzhunnallil’s crucifixion at the hands of IS terrorists on Good Friday emerged from some Christian prayer groups in Dubai.

Koyickal said the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) deputy secretary general, Father Joseph Chinnayyan, is slated to meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday to discuss the matter.

The 56-year-old Uzhunnallil, trained in technical education, has been with the order’s Bengaluru province, which handles part of Karnataka and Kerala, for almost 30 years, he said.

“He worked for the poorer youth and skilling them was one of our primary activities. Uzhunnallil worked at Kolar Gold Fields in Karnataka and was the principal of Don Bosco Royal ITI. Then he moved to Bhadravati and Hassan… he worked in these three places five to six years each,” Koyickal told IANS.

After this, Uzhannallil set off to Yemen in 2010 to become priest of the only Catholic Church approved by the Yemeni government — the St. Francis of Assisi parish in Aden, and also caretaker of Missionaries of Charity Care Home in the same city.

“The care home was started by Mother Teresa at the invitation of the Yemeni government in 1992. It took care of the local destitute, disabled and abandoned people who are mostly Muslim,” said Koyickal.

Mother Teresa opened four care homes and wanted Catholic priests to serve the spiritual needs of the nuns running the operations and to help them in coordinating the work, he said.

According to the Catholic News Agency, the Missionaries of Charity have been present in Yemen since 1973.

Koyickal said the war and violence in Yemen between Houthi rebels and the government forced almost everybody to leave, abandoning the place where the care home and the church are located.

“Uzhunnallil came back to India in January 2015 on expiry of his visa, stayed here for three months and returned to Yemen in April 2015 to volunteer at the church and the care home as there was no one to serve them,” he said.

On March 4, the priest from Kerala was kidnapped after IS terrorists barged into the care home and shot dead many people, including four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, one of them from India.

Most of the people who attended the church in Aden were foreigners and diplomats. It falls under the purview of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia headed by Swiss Bishop Paul Hinder, which oversees the Catholic Church in UAE, Oman and Yemen.

The vicariate operates multiple schools, parishes and churches in the region and has been receiving priests from the Sacred Heart Province of Bengaluru from the late 1980 on request.

Koyickal said the Indian Salesian Order of Don Bosco is 2,667 members strong, of which 1,561 are priests and 1,106 are in training to be ordained so.

Globally, there are 15,037 Salesian Order members – 10,249 priests and 4,788 brothers – while the Sacred Heart Province of Bengaluru has 233 priests and 133 brothers.

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