New Delhi: “I am happy to inform that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil has been rescued,” external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted on Tuesday, sharing India’s relief to the world. The Indian priest who was let off by his abductors in Yemen has to thank a long list of leaders including Swaraj and prime minister Narendra Modi.
Church leaders including Catholic Bishops Conference of India president major archbishop cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis, Syro Malabar major archbishop cardinal Mar George Alanchery and CBCI deputy secretary general monseigneur Joseph Chinnayyan had met the prime minister and the external affairs minister several times to press for the the release of the priest. They had been reassured on all occasions.
The central government, however, had an uphill task in tracing Fr Uzhunnalil. India did not have a diplomatic mission in southern Yemen and there was no information on the group that abducted the priest.
Whenever Swaraj was asked about efforts to release the priest, she put up a brave front. She said the government was hopeful and many west Asian countries had offered to help.
Kerala governor P Sathasivam, Rajya Sabha deputy chairman P J Kurien, former chief minister Oommen Chandy, former home minister Ramesh Chennithala, Jose K Mani and Joy Abraham MPs had also lobbied the central government on behalf of Fr Uzhunnalil.
Many MPs from Kerala raised the issue in Parliament. When minister Nirmala Seetharaman told the Rajya Sabha that the government was doing its best to secure the release of the priest, Kurien wanted the minister to present the details of the efforts in the House. Even former president Pranab Mukherjee had intervened in the issue.
Swaraj never wasted an opportunity. She sought help from Yemen deputy prime minister Abdul Malik Abdul Jaleel al-Mekhlafi when he visited India.
Parallel to India’s efforts, Vatican was also doing its bit. Pope Francis and Salesians of Don Bosco superior general Ángel Fernández Artime were talking to several leaders in west Asia to act on behalf of Fr Uzhunnalil.
The pope had a special mention of the priest a month after the abduction. Addressing the flock at the St Peter’s Square on April 10 last year, he repeated his call for the release of all persons kidnapped from war zones.