After the circulation of rumors claiming Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil was tortured and crucified on Good Friday, the Indian bishops have written to the government urging greater effort in locating the priest.
“A lot of rumors are being spread in the social media that Fr. Tom was subjected to cruel torture and then crucified on Good Friday,” the Indian bishops wrote in a March 28 letter addressed to India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj.
The wide circulation of the “gruesome news” both at home and abroad is upsetting, and “brings agony to the relatives” and arouses concern in everyone, they said.
“It will be in the best interest of our country to step up the efforts to verify the veracity of this disturbing rumor.”
Bishop Paul Hinder, the Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia (whose territory serves Catholics in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen) told CNA on Monday that he has “strong indications that Fr. Tom is still alive in the hands of the kidnappers,” but could not give further information, in order to protect the life of the priest.
While voicing their appreciation for previous efforts the government of India has made in securing the release of abducted citizens from the hands of terrorists, most recently Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar, India's bishops said more ought to be done in the case of Fr. Tom.
On March 4, four gunmen attacked a Missionaries of Charity-run retirement home in Aden, Yemen, killing 16 people, including four Missionary of Charity sisters. Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian national, was kidnapped by the gunmen during the attacks, which are thought to have been perpetrated by Islamist terrorists, though no group has claimed responsibility for the incident.
Since then several blogs and media outlets have reported that Fr. Tom was crucified by Islamic State militants on Good Friday. However, there has been no confirmation of the event by friends, family, or Fr. Uzhunnalil’s community.
In their letter, the Indian bishops said they immediately requested the help of the government in tracing and rescuing Fr. Tom after hearing the “sad and shocking news” of his abduction.
Messages were sent to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh, and the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, “soliciting their urgent intervention to ensure the safety of Fr. Tom.”
The bishops said they have been in constant contact with the Indian government on the matter, and voiced their gratitude for the efforts they have already made in monitoring the process of both finding and rescuing Fr. Uzhunnalil.
However, in spite of the efforts, the bishops stressed that so far there is “no definite answer” regarding the whereabouts of the abducted priest or the motive of his kidnappers.
The bishops noted that the Vatican has upped its own efforts to find Fr. Tom through their diplomatic channels, and requested that Swaraj “leave no stone unturned to ensure the safety and the quick release of Fr. Tom from the hands of the abductors.”
In a March 29 press statement the bishops noted that officials of India’s Ministry of External Affairs have assured them they are “closely looking into all the aspects” of the case and of a safe release for Fr. Tom.
A senior official of the Ministry of External Affairs assured the bishops that Swaraj would receive them personally at her earliest convenience to share “the available and pertinent details” on Fr. Tom’s release.