One week after the attack on the house of the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, in Yemen, there is still no news of the Indian Salesian missionary Fr Tom Uzhunnalil. Fr Francesco Cereda, Vicar of the Rector Major, gave several interviews in recent days to maintain media attention on the death of the Sisters and the situation of the missing Salesian.
“So far we have no hypothesis regarding the reasons for his disappearance. It seems that it is a case of kidnapping” he told the Italian newspaper Avvenire. “The Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Sushma Swaraj, has given an assurance that the government will do everything in its power to locate Fr Tom, to have him released and to bring him back safe and sound. The Indian Bishops’ Conference, and in particular the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder OFM Cap, are taking every possible initiative.”
Fr Cereda also confirmed that “the other Salesian priest in Yemen is in a safe place and keeping in constant contact with his superiors in India, almost every day. Apart from an understandable state of concern over the present situation, it seems that he is well.”
The Vicar of the Rector Major is amazed at the “deafening silence of the media”. “I cannot explain this indifference to which Pope Francis referred at the Sunday Angelus. This seems to be a sign of the change of values in traditionally Christian countries … On the contrary, in India, a country with a Hindu majority, there was sufficient coverage of the event.”
On the Salesian presence in Yemen, Fr Cereda told the Catholic News Agency: “We were aware that the situation was getting worse by the day … we realized that if all went away it would mean being deprived of the only organized Catholic presence in Yemen … so the decision was left to each individual.”
Regarding the future of Fr Uzhunnalil – and another Sister of the Missionaries of Charity who is also missing – Fr Cereda said: “prayers are being said around the Salesian world for his early release. We believe that these efforts are not in vain.”
“The situation is still uncertain and we are unable to furnish specific details on what might have happened to our confrere, and where he is right now.
However, we are in constant contact with the local authorities and with his Province of reference (Bangalore-India) to receive updates regarding the investigations, with deep sentiments, hoping to be soon in communion with our confrere.
Our heart-felt and profound prayer for Father Tom Uzhunnalil, in the hope that he can be back with us quickly to continue his valuable service in the mission;
In the hope founded in Christ that every drop of blood shed is the seed of the fruits of peace for the people whom they were serving, our remembrance for the four Missionaries of Charity Sisters and the civilians whose lives were cut short by senseless violence.
Like Don Bosco and Mother Teresa who served the least with their lives for the mission, the path to their own sanctity, so too our presence in places marked by division and poverty testifies to the faith in the Christian message that from every cross flows the Resurrection.”
Fr Francesco Cereda
Vicar of the Rector Major of the Salesians
Published on 03/03/16
At yesterday’s Angelus Pope Francis called them “the martyrs of today,” and “victims of the attack of those who killed them” and also of the “globalization of indifference”. He was referring to the four Missionaries of Charity and the civilians who were killed last Friday 4 March in Aden, Yemen. An Indian Salesian, Fr Thomas Uzhunnalil, was in the Sisters’ House at the time of the attack. Three days later there is still no news of him.
Francis Pope dedicated his first thought after the Angelus to the victims of this aggression. He said that they gave “their blood for the Church”, although “there are no newspaper headlines for them.” He expressed his sympathy to those who weep for the victims and promised his prayers, at the same time invoking the intercession of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta for peace and respect for human life.
Peace and respect for life are still a mirage in much of Yemen, a country torn by a war that has lasted for over a year and a half, the result of previous socio-political instability. In Sana’a, the historical capital of the country, rebel Houthi militias have been in control since September 2014. Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the President recognized by the international community, has transferred his government to Aden. He condemned Friday’s attack, calling it an act of terrorism
The fate of Fr Uzhunnalil remains a mystery. Many, including civil and Church authorities, are searching for him. The Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that, although the Embassy in Yemen has been closed for some time, his officials are working through contacts with the Indian community present in the country, especially those from Kerala his state of origin.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia is at work, networking with Vatican officials, the Apostolic Nunciature in Kuwait, the Government of the United Arab Emirates, the Indian Embassy and other diplomatic channels to provide all possible help.
And by the Salesian Fr Mathew Thonikuzhiyil, Bangalore Inspector, on which the Salesian mission in Yemen, yesterday met the main representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, these days in the meeting, and the Prime Minister of Kerala, to ask even their help. Also don Thonikuzhiyil also met the family of Don Uzhunnalil to update them on the current situation and provide a little ‘comfort.
Four Missionary Sisters of Charity, the congregation founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, were murdered by a group of armed men who this morning attacked their convent, in the Yemeni city of Aden. As of now, there is no news of the Indian Salesian Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, who resided at the Sisters’ convent. The news from the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia is confirmed by the Agency Fides.
In addition to the sisters, the driver and at least two other Ethiopian employees of the community were killed during the terrorist attack. The Mother Superior of the convent escaped. The elderly and disabled people housed at the community are all alive. As yet, there is no news of Fr Uzhunnalil who has been residing at the Sisters’ convent since the Holy Family church in Aden was looted and set on fire by unidentified armed men last September.
Two of the sisters who were killed were Rwandan, one was Indian, and the fourth was from Kenya. At the moment, the superior of the convent is providing information to the police who have taken custody of the bodies of the sisters and other victims.
We have no information on the origin of the terrorist attack. It is known however that there are entrenched groups linked to the al Qaeda network in the Yemeni port city which was recaptured months ago by forces loyal to President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi in a battle with Houthi rebels.
Further information on the fate of Fr Uzhunnalil will be disseminated as soon as available.
Source: Agenzia Fides