Rumors were spread of the crucifixion of kidnapped priest Tom Uzhunnalil. However, a government official on Saturday, told India’s bishops that the priest is alive, he also said that they are working on ensuring his safe and quick return.
During Holy Week, many blogs and media outlets reported that Fr. Tom was crucified by Islamic State militants on Good Friday. However, there has been no confirmation of the event yet, and the bishop of the local Church dismissed the rumors. However, Last month, Fr. Uzhunnalil was kidnapped when Missionaries of Charity-run retirement home in Aden, Yemen, was attacked by four gunmen killing 16 people, including four Missionary of Charity sisters. Both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have a presence in the area, so, the attacks were thought to have been perpetrated by Islamist terrorists, although no group has claimed responsibility for the incident yet.
India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, received a letter from The Catholic Bishops Conference India (CBCI) on March 28th, urging greater efforts in finding the priest, further information on his whereabouts and to put an end to the rumors of crucifixion. A CBCI delegation then met with Swaraj at her office Saturday.
“Ms. Sushma Swaraj has categorically assured the delegation that Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil is safe and that the Government is adopting all possible means for the quick and safe release of Fr. Tom,” the bishops said in an April 2 statement after the meeting.
“The Honorable Minister also said that the wild rumors being spread about any harm done to Fr. Tom, are totally baseless.”
Sushma Swaraj assured the bishops that every effort is being made to ensure the priest’s safe return. However, to protect the life of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, details of the ongoing investigation and negotiations could not be disclosed.
Rumors of the probability of a Good Friday crucifixion for Fr. Tom began on March 20, when the Franciscan Sisters of Siessen, a religious group based in South Africa, shared a post on Facebook saying they’d received information that the priest was being tortured after his capture and that he would be crucified on Good Friday. Although the Sisters have since deleted the post, over 100,000 people already shared it. The rumor then continued when Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna allegedly confirmed the crucifixion during Easter Vigil services, causing Austrian and Polish media sources to believe the crucifixion had taken place.
Afterwards, Bishop Paul Hinder of Southern Arabia (whose apostolic vicariate serves Catholics in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen) said that Cardinal Schönborn’s statement was based on an incorrect statement from Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore. Cardinal Schonborn has since corrected the alleged statement.
At the end of their statement on Saturday, the Indian bishops said they “expressed their sincere gratitude to the whole Church in India for the various steps taken by the Government of India and, in particular, the Honorable Minister for External Affairs, to trace and rescue Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil from the abductors.”