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Video appeal of kidnapped Salesian priest triggers calls for his release

28 Dec 2016 – COCHIN, India (CNS) — The emergence of a video in which Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped by Islamic State militants in Yemen in March, is seen appealing for his release has led to widespread calls for diplomatic efforts to end his captivity.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, India’s minister of state for parliamentary affairs, reiterated to Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, that the government is “doing everything possible” during a meeting at church headquarters in Cochin Dec. 27.

The minister’s visit came a day after a five-minute video of a visibly weak Father Uzhunnalil making an emotional appeal for his release. The Salesian hails from India’s Kerala state.

In the video, Father Uzhunnalil appeared to blame both the Indian government and church officials for failing to secure his release. He claimed his captors had made several contacts with the Indian government and yet “I am very sad that nothing has been done seriously in my regard.”

“If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously. I am from India. I am perhaps not considered as of much value. … Dear Pope Francis, dear Holy Father, as a father please take care of my life. I am very much depressed. My health is deteriorating,” the priest is seen saying.

Archbishop Maria Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum, president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, demanded Father Uzhunnalil’s release “without further delay” Dec. 27.

“Not withstanding technicalities involved, the delay is seen by the common people as a lapse on the part of those concerned,” he said.

Meanwhile, Father Paul Thelakkat, who ministers in Kerala, called the video of “Father Tom’s appeal for his life very painful and distressing,” in an interview with Catholic News Service.

“The video clearly indicates that the terrorists are putting more pressure on India and the church to succumb to their demands, whatever they may be,” Father Thelakkat said.

Father George Njarakunnel, vicar of Ramapuram parish in the Palai Diocese, said parishioners began praying at the priest’s residence after the video became public.