Pope Francis on Sunday issued an appeal for the release of kidnapped Salesian priest, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, and all persons being held captive in conflict regions.
“Dear brothers and sisters, in the hope given to us by the Risen Christ, I renew my appeal for the freeing of all kidnapped persons in armed conflict zones,” the Pope told the crowds in St. Peter's Square after the recitation of Regina Caeli prayer.
“In particular, I wish to remember Salesian priest Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Aden, Yemen last March 4.”
Fr. Uzhunnalil, an Indian national, was abducted last month when four gunmen attacked a Missionaries of Charity-run retirement home in Aden, Yemen, killing 16 people, including four Missionary of Charity sisters. The attacks are thought to have been perpetrated by Islamist terrorists, though no group has claimed responsibility for the incident. Both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have a presence in the area.
During Holy Week, rumors circulated of Fr. Uzhunnalil having been crucified on Good Friday. However, it was later revealed by India's government and bishops that the abducted priest was alive, and efforts were underway to ensure his safe return.
Before leading the crowds in the Regina Caeli, Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel reading for the third Sunday of Easter which recounts the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples in Galilee.
“The story is placed within the framework of the disciples' daily life,” after their return to their work as fishermen following Jesus' death and resurrection, the Pope said.
After fishing through the night, the Gospel recounts, the disciples fail to catch any fish. The empty nets represent the disciple's experience to a certain extent, the Pope said: “they knew him, they had left everything to follow him, full of hope... and now what?”
In the account, Jesus then appears to the disciples after they have spent all night fishing on the lake, although they do not recognize him at first. Calling to the disciples from the beach, Jesus tells them to let down their nets once more; they obey, and catch more fish than their nets can contain. Upon recognizing Jesus — exclaiming, “It is the Lord!” -- they rush toward him, with Peter jumping from the boat and swimming to shore.
With this exclamation “It is the Lord!” the Pope said, “there is all the excitement of Easter faith, full of joy and amazement, which contrasts sharply with the bewilderment, despair, and sense of helplessness that had accumulated in the minds of the disciples.”
“The presence of the risen Jesus transforms everything: darkness is overcome by light, fruitless work once again becomes fruitful and promising, the sense of fatigue and neglect gives way to a new momentum and the assurance that he is with us.”
Since then, the Pope said, “these same sentiments have enlivened the Church, the Community of the Risen.”
This “profound joy” and “invincible hope” in the Risen Christ continues to resonate today, and challenges the faithful to spread the message, Francis said.
It may seem as though “the darkness of evil and fatigue of daily life have the upper hand,” he said, but “the Church knows with certainty that those who follow the Lord Jesus now shine (with) the everlasting the light of Easter.”
“Today too the Church continues to resonate this festive announcement: the joy and hope continue to flow into the hearts, the faces, gestures and words.”
The Pope said Christians are called to “communicate the message of the Resurrection to those we encounter, especially the suffering, the alone, those who are in dangerous conditions, the sick, the refugees, the marginalized.”
Jesus “renews in us the Easter faith,” Francis concluded. “May he make us ever more aware of our mission at the service of the Gospel and of the brothers; may he fill us with His Holy Spirit in order that, supported by the intercession of Mary, we may proclaim to the whole Church the greatness of his love and the richness of his mercy.”