KOCHI: Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, who arrived in his home state 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 the authorities at the Salesian congregation assigned, including going back to the war-torn West Asian nation to work for the poor and distressed.
“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 provisional capital of Yemen) right up to their last days on earth. If God wishes me to return, I’ll be ready to accept it,” Fr Uzhunnalil told journalists here.
Fr Uzhunnalil, who spent 557 days in captivity, said his captors treated him well and gave him food and water even they observed fast during the month of Ramzan. “They (the captors) even took the pain to get me medicines even when I caught a slight fever. They never ill-treated me. This shows they’ve goodness in them,” he said. Asked how he was able to forgive the Yemeni militants, Fr Uzhunnalil said, “I’m a Christian priest. Our Lord has asked us to forgive our enemies. If I can’t forgive my captors, there’s no point in me being a Christian.”
‘I could feel they respected Indians’
The priest, who belongs to the Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Karnataka, was abducted by the militants on March 4, 2016 from an old-age home in Aden, while praying in the chapel. The militants had killed four nuns and a young boy before abducting Fr Uzhunnalil. As a captive, he lost the count of the days or months. “One day, my captors told me they have ‘good news’. After a pause, they said, ‘we are going to set you free to Kerala’,” Fr Uzhunnalil recalled.A native of Ramapuram, Kottayam, Fr Uzhunnalil said Indians were highly regarded by the militants. “I could feel they respected Indians. It may be due to the work put in by our doctors and nurses in those (Arab) countries,” he said.
When his flight touched down earlier in the day, the 59-year-old priest, who will be in Kerala for four days, was accorded a warm welcome at the Cochin International Airport by Christian priests and political leaders, including Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.
Auxiliary Bishop of Palai Jacob Muricken welcomed Fr Uzhunnalil. Later, the priest addressed the Sunday mass congregation at St Mary’s Basilica, Ernakulam.
The priest had reached Delhi on September 28, where he met the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister. The next day, he reached Bengaluru, where he met priests of the Salesians of Don Bosco.