Ready to go back to Yemen: Fr. Uzhunnalil

Catholic priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, 59, who was released from Yemeni militants’ captivity in the second week of September, arrived here on Sunday to a warm reception.

People from different walks of life thronged the St. Mary’s Basilica Cathedral as Fr. Uzhunnalil arrived around 10.30 a.m. The cathedral and its premises were packed with people even before his arrival. People wielding cameras and sacred pictures greeted him as he arrived, accompanied by auxiliary bishop Jose Puthenveettil of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly.

Fr. Uzhunnalil, a member of the Catholic religious order Salesians of Don Bosco, was accompanied by his provincial superior Fr. Joice Francis and his deputy Jose Koickal.

He arrived at the Kochi international airport from Bengaluru around 7 a.m. He was received by a large gathering of people. Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala; MLAs Hibi Eden, V.K. Ebrahim Kunju, Answar Sadatt, Roji John, and V.D. Satheesan; and Jose K. Mani, MP; were among them.

Mr. Chennithala said it was inappropriate that the government had not given due importance to the arrival Fr. Uzhunnalil in Kerala. Auxiliary bishop of Pala Jacob Muricken and curia bishop Sebastian Vaniyapurakkal were also in the group that received Fr. Uzhunnalil.

Later, addressing his first press conference in Kerala after his release, Fr. Uzhunnalil thanked everyone for their prayers and support. He recalled that people from all religious communities had offered pujas and prayers for his well-being. He said that his release was the result of concerted efforts by different agencies and people.

He said he did not know who had abducted him but God appeared to have touched their hearts and called for prayers for his captors. He said he had no communication from the outside world until he was released and arrived in Oman.

On the day of his release, he said, one of his captors said: “Good news; we are going to send you back to Kerala.”

Fr. Uzhunnalil said he was ready to go back to Yemen if he was called upon to do so by his superiors. He reiterated that he had submitted himself to the will of God and his superiors and that at no point was he called back from Yemen even as the threat of violence and war loomed large in that part of the world.

He called upon everyone to pray for world peace. He said he was sure peace would dawn on the world. That he was let free in pretty good health was a sign that God had heard everyone’s prayers. He recalled that his captors treated him well, providing him food and medicines whenever required.

Fr. Uzhunnalil was abducted on the morning of March 5, 2016, from a station run by the Missionaries of Charity and spent 557 days in captivity. During the period, he said, he was treated well. “No one pointed a gun at me,” he said answering questions on the treatment meted out to him by his captors.

As a message to all, he said that everyone must identify their mission in life and fulfil it.