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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Pope Francis urges release of captives in battle zones

Pope Francis has appealed for the release of all people being held captive in the world’s battle zones, including Salesian Fr Thomas Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Yemen.

“I renew my appeal for the liberation of all people kidnapped in areas of armed conflict,” the pope said after praying the Regina Coeli with pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square on 10th April.

“In particular, I want to remember Salesian Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, abducted in Aden in Yemen on 4th March,” he said.

Fr Uzhunnalil was kidnapped from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack.

Born in Kerala, India, the 56-year-old priest had been serving in Yemen for the past four years as a chaplain to the sisters.

When the situation in Yemen began to deteriorate, two of the five Salesians, including Fr Uzhunnalil, decided to stay in the country along with a handful of other Catholics despite the risks to their safety, Salesian Fr Francesco Cereda, vicar of the order’s superior, told AsiaNews on 10th March.

The Salesians, he said, have been present in Yemen since 1987 and were the only priests working in the Muslim-majority nation. “We understood that if everyone left, we would have been deprived of the only organised Catholic presence in Yemen,” Fr Cereda had said in March.

The Holy See, the Indian government, India’s Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Salesian community were all working to secure the priest’s release, he said.