KOTTAYAM: Ever since their beloved ‘Tom Achan’ was abducted last year, the relatives of Father Tom Uzhunnalil have been devastated and were praying for his safe release for the past 18 months. When the news of his release reached them, it was music to their ears. The happy news reached them while they were returning home after participating in a baptism at Ramapuram on Tuesday. Without delay, they returned to Ramapuram to attend a thanksgiving prayer service. “It is indeed great news for us,” Uzhunnalil’s cousin Augustine Mathew told Express.
“For the past one year, we were conducting a prayer meeting on Sundays for the release of Fr Tom. Now the Lord has answered our prayers. All the political leaders were supportive. Minister for External Affairs Sushama Swaraj was very cordial and cooperative. Jose K Mani MP as well as the state government was with us from the beginning. Top politicians, including BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan, LDF convenor Vaikom Viswan and former Minister P C Thomas, P J Joseph came to pledge their support. The Union Government and the Church kindled our hopes when many of us had lost it,” said the lawyer based in Thodupuzha.
According to him, as many as 100 family members attended the evening prayers at the residence of Uzhunnalil at Ramapuram. “We are all excited with this news,” said Ramapuram-based Thomas Uzhunnalil, a cousin of the priest.
A nun’s testimonial
According to Jose K Mani, who played an active role in the attempts to release the priest, it was a testimonial by a nun which played a vital role in his release. “When I was in Rome for the canonisation of Mother Teresa, a nun named Sister Sally came to meet me after learning I am from Kottayam,” he told Express. “A member of the Missionaries of Charity congregation founded by Mother Teresa, she was an invitee to the function and had witnessed the abduction of Fr Tom after the slaying of four fellow nuns. Her words carried the air of the bloodshed she witnessed. Soon, I introduced her to Sushama Swaraj leading the Indian delegation to the Vatican.”
According to Jose, this nun from Thodupuzha narrated the incident to the minister. “I met her a few times with regard to the abducted priest and communicated with her at least a dozen times. She was very keen in this matter. Whenever some bad news surfaced, she used to tell me Fr Tom is alive. Many things could not be divulged as it would have affected his release. So she stated there would not be any statements in this matter for the safe release of the priest,” he added.
‘News of great joy whole world was waiting for’
Kochi: “It is a news of great joy the whole world has been waiting for,” said Syro-Malabar Church head Cardinal Mar George Alencherry on the release of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, who was held captive by extremists in Yemen for 18 months. “We understand the Oman Government had made crucial intervention recently. The Gover-nment of India and Vatican had also made sincere efforts. Bishop Paul Hinter, the current vicar apostolic in the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, had been coordinating with the governments,” the Cardinal said. He expressed Church’s gratitude to the governments of India, Oman, and Vatican.
He even thanked the extremist group which freed Fr Uzhunnalil. “The Syro-Malabar Church expresses the gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Government of Oman and Bishop Paul Hinter, whose interve-ntion made the release of Fr Uzhunnalil possible. God acts through certain persons,” the Cardinal said. However, Alencherry said he had no information about Fr Uzhunnalil’s arrival in Kerala. Asked whether the priest was freed after paying a ransom, Cardinal said he had no information about that. “We are yet to receive such details,” he said.