KOCHI/NEW DELHI/ THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Amid rumours of his crucifixion on Good Friday, the nation on Monday continued to pray for the safe return of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Catholic priest from Kerala who worked with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Yemen and was abducted by gunmen reportedly linked to the IS.
According to reports, Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn had confirmed at the Easter Vigil Mass at the St Stephen’s Cathedral in the Austrian capital that the priest who was abducted on March 4 had been crucified.
Quoting Schonborn, Washington Post also reported that the priest was executed.
However, Schonborn later clarified that he is still optimistic about Fr Uzhunnalil.
After speaking to Paul Hinder, the incharge of the Arab region, Schonborn said in a post in German on the official website www.erzdioezese-wien.at that there is still hope. “Though there is uncertainty, Paul Hinder was cautiously optimistic as he has reasons to believe that the abducted priest was alive,” said the statement, quoted by German Catholic News Agency (KNA).
Last week, there were rumours in social media that Fr Uzhunnalil could be executed on Good Friday, but with no credible sources.
The Church too did not confirm the news. “On learning about it, we contacted the Catholic Bishops Conference of India headquarters and Apostolic Nunciature in New Delhi, but they were not able to confirm whether he is alive or not,” said Fr Jimmy Poochakatt, spokesperson of the Syro Malabar Church.
Even sources in the government refused to confirm the report, saying they were trying to ascertain details. A senior official said that information seemed to be mere hearsay.
“The government officials also contacted Vatican, but there is no confirmation or proof of him being crucified or killed as reported in the US and Austrian media. India is still trying to locate him and verify if he is in IS captivity,” the government sources said.
Meanwhile, NORKA Minister K C Joseph said in Thiruvananthapuram that Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy would meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj seeking the Centre’s intervention for the release of Fr Uzhunnalil.
“Efforts are on for informal talks with the terrorist group to get the priest released. Details cannot be divulged now,” he said.
Joseph refuted reports that the priest was killed. “The government is yet to receive any such information. Our understanding is that the priest is still alive, though our sources of information are limited,” he said.
“The Chief Minister has sought an appointment with the Union Minister on Tuesday to raise the issue. The CM had conducted telephonic discussions with Swaraj thrice on the issue,” he said. Meanwhile, Syro Malabar Church head Mar George Cardinal Alenchery appealed to pray for the safe return of Fr Uzhunnalil. “All those who wish for the virtue of the society should pray for him,” he said in a statement.