On the 10 month anniversary of the kidnapping of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil in Yemen, the Salesians are inviting people around the world to join them in praying a novena for the priest’s safety and release.
The Salesian order, to which Fr. Tom belongs, is inviting the faithful to trust the “intercession of the Mother of the Savior” and asking them to include the “special intention” of Fr. Tom in a novena to Mary, Help of Christians, according to Salesian newsletter “Agenzia Info Salesiana” (ANS).
The novena, proposed to the Salesians by the Association of Mary Help of Christians (ADMA) of Turin, will last from Jan. 15-23.
“As an association, we feel particularly committed to praying for priests, so we would like to request the intervention of Mary Immaculate Help of Christians for the prompt release of Fr Tom,” Mr. Tullio Lucca and Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni, President and Spiritual Animator of ADMA, said in a Jan. 10 article published on ANS.
Rector Major of the Salesians Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime has given the initiative his full support, and is encouraging all members of the Salesian family to participate in the novena.
Prayers for the novena, to be offered three times daily for the duration of the nine consecutive days, include: an Our Father, Hail Mary and a Glory Be offered to the Holy Eucharist, followed by the short prayer: “Blessed and praised every moment be the Most Holy and Divine Sacrament.”
Then participants must pray, again three times, the Hail Holy Queen followed by “Mary Help of Christians, pray for us.”
Personal conditions required for the novena include participating in the sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist, making an offering to or participating in the work of an apostolate, particularly one aimed at youth, and renewing one’s faith in the Eucharistic Jesus and their devotion to Mary, Help of Christians.
The proposition of the novena comes just 10 days after the Salesian province of Bangalore in India requested that the 11 Salesian communities of South Asia to mark Jan. 4 as day of prayer and adoration for Fr. Tom’s release.
Both prayer initiatives come after a video was posted to YouTube Dec. 26 allegedly showing Fr. Tom appealing to Pope Francis, and bishops all over the world, for help.
“Dear Pope Francis…as a father, please take care of my life,” Fr. Tom said. “My health is deteriorating; I am in need of hospitalization soon. Please come to my help quickly.”
Fr. Tom was kidnapped in Yemen in March of last year during an attack on a Missionaries of Charity house that left 4 sisters dead.
No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, making it difficult for the Indian government to broker the priest’s release, which has been exacerbated by the political instability in Yemen.
Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since March 2015, when Shia rebels attempted to oust Yemen’s Sunni-led government. Saudi Arabia has led a pro-government coalition. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have set up strongholds in the country amid the power vacuum. More than 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations.
Fr. Tom garnered international attention last spring when rumors spread that he was to be crucified on Good Friday after his kidnapping. The rumors were later discredited.
Pope Francis appealed for the priest’s release April 10 after his Sunday Regina Caeli address in St. Peter’s Square.
“I renew my appeal for the freeing of all kidnapped persons in armed conflict zones,” the Pope said. “In particular, I wish to remember Salesian priest Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Aden, Yemen last March 4.”