September 12, 2017 | 10:00 PM
Members of Don Bosco Provincial House celebrate with sweets after the release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted by IS in March 2016, in Bengaluru on Tuesday. Photo – PTI
Thiruvananthpauram/Kochi: The Catholic Church, political leaders and family members of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, abducted by militants in Yemen last year, on Tuesday thanked the governments of India and Oman for their efforts to secure his release.
Catholic Bishops Conference of India president and Major Archbishop of Syro Malankara church Baselious Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos and Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, CBCI secretary general said the church was grateful to Government of India and all concerned.
“We are all very happy and glad at the release of Father Tom. On behalf of CBCI and church in India, I thank all those who were involved in the release of Fr Tom, especially Government of India and the state government,” the Cardinal told PTI in Thiruvananthapuram.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in the matter, he said. The Cardinal also thanked Pope Francis for the Vatican’s efforts in ensuring the release of the Keralite priest.
Latin Catholic church head Archbishop Soosai Pakiyam also hailed the release of Father Tom. Vijayan said the release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil was “heartening”. “The intervention of Oman had paved the way for his release, I understand,” he said in a Facebook post.
All help will be provided to enable him reach Kerala and for his further treatment, he said.
Former chief minister Oommen Chandy said Keralites had been waiting to hear the news of Father Tom’s release for the last 18 months. Chandy had met Governor P. Sathasivam along with the priest’s relatives, and had been putting pressure on the Centre for the priest’s early release.
The governor had forwarded the plea of the priest’s kin to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, with a note by him requesting to strengthen the search for the missing priest. Swaraj had tweeted in reply that “we are sparing no effort”.
Fr Uzhunnalil had gone missing in Yemen after the terror group attacked a care home run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. There were several video messages from him after the incident, seeking help to save his life. The priest hails from Bharananganam in Pala in Kottayam.
BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan said the release was the result of the “earnest efforts” of the external affairs minister. All steps should be taken to bring him back to his home state as soon as possible, he said in a statement.
Rajya Sabha MP and vice chairman NDA Kerala, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, congratulated the Government of Oman and Swaraj on the release.
In Kochi, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas said the church was grateful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for their efforts.
Thomas Uzhunallil, an immediate kin of the priest, told reporters at Ramapuram in Kottayam district that the family had been waiting for this news for the last one-and-a-half years. Recalling the Catholic church representatives’ August 17 meeting with Swaraj in New Delhi, he said the minister had assured them that the government had given “first priority” for securing the release of the priest.