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Key bishop: ‘We don’t know’ if Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil is still alive

As the situation in Yemen continues to worsen, Bishop Paul Hinder on Friday requested prayers for priests, for the Missionaries of Charity, and for kidnapped priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, whose situation is uncertain.

“I do not know how we can continue in the present situation," said a visibly moved Bishop Hinder. “And pray for Fr. Tom, if he’s dead or not. We don’t know."

The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia spoke briefly Sept. 2 at the end of a symposium on Mother Teresa, foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, who will be canonized Sunday. The event was hosted by Asia News in Rome. Not originally scheduled to speak, the bishop apologized that his remarks were unprepared, as he had just left his office in Abu Dhabi that morning.

“I suffer due to the situation that has arisen in Yemen, where 7 million people die of hunger; there is security for no one, it’s not a question of being Christians or Muslims," he said. “The insecurity is general in the entire country, caused by the civil war."
The bishop offered an update on Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian national who was abducted March 4 when four gunmen attacked a Missionaries of Charity-run retirement home in Aden, the provincial capital of Yemen, killing 16 people, including four Missionary of Charity sisters.

It remains unclear who was behind the kidnapping. The plight of Fr. Tom garnered significant international attention when rumors arose that he was to be crucified on Good Friday. However, these rumors were later discredited.

While reports earlier this year indicated that Fr. Tom was safe and perhaps close to release, Bishop Hinder cautioned that the priest’s condition remains unknown.

As the situation in Yemen worsens, they are having difficulty bringing any priests and sisters into the country, the bishop noted, asking for prayers for that intention, explaining that several sisters and their patients had recently been removed from Yemen “for weeks or maybe months," and asked for prayers for the remaining sisters and for priests still waiting to go there but delayed by problems in acquiring visas.

“The community located in Ta’izz had to leave their house, because they found themselves in the middle of two sides of the war and had to move to Sanaa. We are waiting to be able to send them back, but in this moment it is not possible," said the bishop.

“We find ourselves in a situation in which the sisters have lived for months without the Eucharist," he lamented. “And I can imagine the pain that creates for them, if you know Mother Teresa, who will soon be a saint."

Bishop Hinder talked about the bravery of the Missionaries of Charity, even following the martyrdom of four of their sisters. “Some days after the sisters were killed, March 4, I met the only survivor," he said. “The first thing she said to me is: ‘I want to return, as soon as possible and as soon as I have permission.’"

“Imagine this zeal in this situation of martyrdom. It…has entered the Congregation from their foundress," he shared. “My predecessor has met many times with the Mother Superior in Sanaa, and he said: ‘Thanks to you we have priests here with us.’"
The Missionaries of Charity sponsor the visas for the priests in Sanaa and Tais. “I have always admired them: when I went to them in my visits, their spirit of simplicity and joy…I always saw the sisters smiling. My predecessor said: ‘But how do they do it in this situation?’"

The civil war in Yemen began in March 2015. That month Houthi rebels, who are Shia Muslims, took over portions of Yemen seeking to oust its Sunni-led government.

Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen’s north, has led a coalition backing the government. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have set up strongholds in the country amid the power vacuum.

The civil war has killed more than 6,000 people, according to the United Nations.

“I invite you to pray for the priests and that others can unite to them. The mission in the state of war, despite the difficulty, must continue," Bishop Hinder said.

“Fr. Tom was abducted: he had returned to Yemen, asking me and the provincial for permission. I told him: ‘If you want, I will help you enter my country.’ Certainly today it’s painful to think about," he said.

“But I am still convinced it was right. In war you can never predict what happens."

By Hannah Brockhaus


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