He was kidnapped on March 4, 2016, during the attack on a hospice in Aden, Yemen, which killed four Missionaries of Charity and twelve boarders. Fr. Thomas Uzhunnalil was released on September 11, 2017. He recently spoke of his experience to the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
After his release and his meeting with the Holy Father, Fr. Thomas Uzhunnalil returned to India, his native country, the next day. He met with many personalities, bishops, and fellow Salesians, but also with the head of the federal government, Narendra Modi. This is quite a paradox when we recall that the party in power, the BJP, has very officially included in its agenda the eradication of Christianity in the country.
Nothing will ever be the same again in the life of Fr. Uzhunnalil: the massacre of the Sisters with whom he was working – four Missionaries of Charity murdered on March 4, 2016 – and the experience of life as a prisoner have marked his priestly life forever.
“Those days were like a long spiritual retreat,” he admitted in all simplicity in the columns of La Stampa. “I have had the opportunity to enter deeply into myself, to think again about my life, my vocation and the mission the Lord entrusted to me.”
Looking back, the priest recognizes that “in His goodness, the Lord has allowed me to live this experience, to experience insecurity, suffering, privation, imprisonment, and then return to being a free man, still able to carry out my mission as a baptized, a priest, a son of Don Bosco. I thank God with all of myself for this new possibility”.
As for the strength to hold strong during those eighteen months of imprisonment, the Salesian confides that he found it in the Mass and in spiritual communions: “I celebrated Mass spiritually every day, remembering by heart all the readings and parts of the liturgy; I was the Eucharistic sacrifice, my own body was a living sacrifice that pleased God.”
Throughout his captivity, the priest remained intimately united with “Man of Sorrows, the one who knew anguish, who has been mistreated and rejected, Christ on the cross”. Every day, he explains, “I felt Jesus next to me, I always knew and felt in my heart that I was not alone.”
Fr. Uzhunnalil often thinks back to the eve of the massacre. On March 3, 2016, the superior of the convent of the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, aware of the precarious situation the community was in, declared: “It would be nice to be martyred all together for Christ.” And the youngest of the religious replied: “I want to live for Christ.” She survived the attack the next day…
Fr. “Tom”, as he is called in India, now has a new life that he himself describes as follows: “To sow the Gospel and proclaim the Kingdom of heaven”.