KOCHI: Fr. Tom Uzhunalil, who arrived in his home state of Kerala on Sunday for the first time since his release from Yemeni militants' custody on September 12, said he was ready to take up any mission that the authorities of the Salesian congregation assigns, including going back to war-torn Yemen.
"I believe God had a mission in sending me to Yemen. God has a purpose for everyone. My purpose may have been to be with the four nuns of Missionaries of Charity (who were killed in the terror attack in Aden, the capital of Yemen) and be with them during their last days on earth. If God wishes me to go back again, I'll be ready to accept it," he told newspersons here.
Fr. Uzhunalil said his captors treated him well and gave him food and water even while they were fasting for Ramzan. "They (the captors) even took pains to get medicines when I caught a small fever. They never ill-treated me, which shows they have goodness in them," he said.
Asked how he was able to forgive the Yemeni militants, Fr. Uzhunalil said: "I'm a Christian priest. Our Lord has asked us to forgive the enemies. If I can't forgive my captors, then there is no point in being a Christian."
The priest, who belongs to the Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Karnataka, was abducted on March 4, 2016, from an old age home in Aden while he was praying in the chapel. Four nuns and a young boy were killed by the militants before they abducted Fr. Uzhunalil.
He spent 557 days in captivity in a small room, but he lost the count of the days or months. "One day, my captors told me that they have 'good news'. After a pause, they said 'we are going to set you free to Kerala'".
Fr. Uzhunalil, who is a native of Ramapuram, Kottayam, said Indians are regarded highly by the militants. "I could feel that they respect Indians. This may be the work put in by our doctors and nurses in those countries," he said.
Earlier in the day, the 59-year-old Salesian priest, who will be in Kerala for four days, was accorded a warm welcome by priests and political leaders including Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala at the Cochin International Airport, Nedumbassery.
Auxiliary Bishop of Palai Jacob Muricken welcomed Fr. Tom Uzhunalil at the airport.
Later, he addressed the Sunday mass at St. Mary's Basilica, Ernakulam.
Freed from captivity, Fr. Uzhunalil reached Delhi on September 28, where he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, before reaching Bengaluru the next day, where he met the priests of the congregation he belongs to.
Meanwhile, Fr. Uzhunalil’s arrival in Kerala has sparked a controversy. Opposition leader Chennithala said the LDF government could have sent at least one minister to receive Fr. Uzhunalil.
In the evening he’ll reach his hometown Ramapuram, where he will participate in a public meeting.