MUSCAT, Oman (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Salesian priest taken hostage by Islamic militants has been rescued. Father Tom Uzhunnalil was abducted in March 2016 after Muslim militants stormed a convent in Aden in Southern Yemen and gunned down four Missionary Sisters of Charity and killed 12 lay employees.
"I thank God Almighty and Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said, for securing the release," the priest told Oman Observer Daily. "I also thank my brothers and sisters, and all relatives and friends for praying for me."
His brother, Mathew Uzhunnalil, is expressing gratitude, saying his family's prayers have been answered. And Kerala's minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, tweeted Tuesday, "I am happy to inform that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil has been rescued."
According to the superior of the convent, who witnessed the 2016 abduction and was able to escape, the priest consumed all the Sacred Hosts before the gunmen grabbed him. They destroyed the sacred vessels, tabernacle and altar in the chapel before dragging the 56-year-old priest into a van.
A video released in December shows Fr. Uzhunnalil looking gaunt, unshaven and weak, pleading for his life.
The priest met in private audience with the pope Tuesday after first being flown to Rome on a Royal Oman Air Force plane from Muscat, the capital of Oman. The Oman government issued a press release Tuesday:
In response to the Royal Orders of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and as per a request from the Vatican to assist in the rescuing of a Vatican employee, the concerned authorities in the Sultanate, in coordination with the Yemeni authorities, have managed to find a Vatican government employee. He was transferred this morning to Muscat in preparation for his return home.
The Vatican had intervened to rescue the priest, sending a representative in August to ask the king of Oman to secure his release. The government of India had also been active in negotiations with the militants over the past year and a half.
ISIS dressed in blue came in, killed guard and driver. Five young Ethiopian men (Christian) began running to tell the Sisters ISIS was here to kill them. They were killed one by one. They tied them to trees, shot them in the head and smashed their heads. ...
Meanwhile at the convent, Father had heard the screaming and consumed all the Hosts. He had no time to consume the large Host so he threw the oil out of the sanctuary lamp and dissolved it in the water. A neighbor saw them put Father Tom in their car. They did not find any trace of Father anywhere. All the religious articles were smashed and destroyed — Our Lady, Crucifix, Alter, Tabernacle, lectionary stand — even their prayer books and Bibles.
Sister Sally went on to say that "their blood will be the seeds for peace in the Middle East and to stop ISIS."
According to the same testimony, Fr. Uzhunnalil was in the habit of telling the sisters at the convent daily, "Let us be ready for martyrdom."
The priest spent a total of one year and six months in captivity.