God spared me martyrdom for a reason: Fr Tom (Matters India Interview)

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JOSEPH (2)(Note: Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest who was in the custody of unknown (?) militants for some 18 months is now released from captivity and that certainly is Good News. Unfortunately, the legacy of Fr Tom is raising many eyebrows too; a lot of questions have come up. Was his assignment in Yemen, matching with the interests of the Government of India? Do the hard core militants who killed 16 persons including four Missionaries of Charity nuns on the same day of Fr Tom's abduction need this much of glorification by Fr Tom? Who deserves to be thanked – the Vatican which supposedly paid the ransom money or the public who were in relentless prayer? Fr Tom says that he is ready to go to Yemen again, if God so wills. He is talking about a Will that is contradicting the countrie's policies and compelling the public for a re-interpretation of it. However, the Matters India Interview done by Shri Cyriac Sebastian with Fr. Tom is a balanced presentation and an in-depth study of what really is on. Everything the reader may want to know is in it.  Joseph Mattappally, Asso. Editor CCV).

Read the interview. In the pic. Fr Tom Uzhunnalil


By Cyriac Sebastian

Kochi: Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest who was released from the captivity of Islamic militants last month, says God has a plan in sparing him the gift of martyrdom.

In an exclusive interview with Cyriac Sebastian, Matters India Special Correspondent for Kerala, and photographer Anil Joseph Mathew, the 59-year-old priest shared his experience during the 18-month captivity in Yemen and the rousing welcome he received in India. He met them at Don Bosco Vaduthala, Ernakulam, on October 2.Excerpts:

MATTERS INDIA: You have spent five days in India in your so-called second life. What are your sentiments now? Did you expect such a rousing and loving welcome in your motherland?

FATHER TOM UZHUNNALIL: The response I got was beyond my expectation and I feel happy that I am loved this much and I am thankful to every one for their affection and prayers.The Central government, State Government ,all political outfits, the Catholic Church in India and especially in Kerala ,every one gave me a rousing and loving welcome. I am thankful to all of you and Almighty God as well.

How have all these hectic programs affected your health? Are people considerate towards your health? Do you get sufficient rest and proper medication? What is your weight now?

Yes, a bit tiredness is there, but that does not matter. I am diabetic and it is the main problem as of now, apart from that I feel healthy. For the last couple of days I was unable to monitor my weight but it is in the region of 63-65 kg and I am thankful that all including the media have been receptive and understanding when they are with me and I thank them in return.

In Delhi you said you have become a property of the entire humanity. Could you elaborate a bit?

It was brought to my attention that not only my family (Uzhunnalil and my Salesian brothers) but people of many nations have thought of me, remembered me and prayed for my wellbeing and release from captivity. It was this knowledge of overwhelming compassion and love towards me that made me realise that I am not just a Catholic priest from Kerala but rather a property of the entire humanity.

While addressing those at the Mass in Delhi’s cathedral you said God has spared you the gift of martyrdom? Do you regret it? What were your thoughts on the day of your abduction? Did it ever cross your mind that the abductors would kill you as they did with the nuns and workers of the Aden centre?

Fr Tom blessing admirers

When God spared me from the gift of martyrdom, he had a definite plan for me. God had a plan in sending me to Yemen. During my days of abduction and captivity He had a plan, and even now He has a plan for me. I have to act according to His plans. why do I worry about His plans or regret it? I am thankful to God and my fellow humans for my life. Yes, as a normal human, there was fear and concern in my mind during my abduction. But during my captivity the abductors showed signs of compassion and they never told me that they were going to kill me. Hence the fear of death was never present.

Did you ever get to know about the false news about your crucifixion on Good Friday? What were your thoughts when you heard about it?

My captors never told me that they wanted to kill me and I was never made aware of any such plans. I was kept in closed confinement and was not at all aware of the days or dates. I came to know of the dates only when they recorded the videos .But after my release I heard about it from my fellow Salesians and why would I comment about something fictitious.

When did you first get a glimpse of what was happening in the outside world?

My captors kept me in closed doors but I was getting sunlight through the windows. I was not aware of anything happening outside my room let alone the world. It was only on the day of my release I had a glimpse of the world outside.

Have you ever experienced hopelessness and despair as Christ felt on the cross during your captivity? Did you expect to be freed?

Our Lord filled me with Hope always. During my captivity prayers were my only solace. From Dawn to dusk I kept on praying. It does not mean that I knelt on the ground, folded my hands and prayed aloud but rather I prayed constantly and relentlessly in my mind, I never ceased to pray silently. Without bread and wine, without vestments, or texts I recited the Holy Mass in my mind. Offering Mass and praying relentlessly every day was what kept me going. It gave me a lot of strength, faith and above all Hope.

How has this captivity helped your personally, psychologically and spiritually?

Fr Tom with Matters India team

This gave me the chance to deepen my faith and Hope in Christ. Spiritually it was a great test and yet it strengthened me but psychologically any captivity was a torture.

Are you willing to go back to Yemen if asked? Or will you go to a similar difficult and dangerous mission area?

That depends up on my seniors, wherever they send me I have to work. I am first and foremost a missionary. It is my duty to serve. Whether it is Yemen or anywhere else in the world I will serve.

There were allegations that you went to Yemen ignoring Government of India advise to avoid that country. What do you say?

No comments as of now.

Do you have any message for the Church and society in India and especially for those Catholic priests and nuns preparing to go for mission work overseas?

Realize that God has a plan for all of us. It is in our interest that such a plan is made and we all must submit to it.

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2 Responses

  1. almayasabdam says:

    Joseph Mattappally writes: Shri Isaac gives us a clear picture of what really happened. Even though the Catholic Church circles in Kerala are disturbed in this case, Fr Tom was given a heroic reception by the public and that definitely encouraged by the Church Media. Today a Malayalam News Paper, 'Magalam' (not the Catholic voice – Deepika) has published the comments of the official Church spokesperson Fr Paul Thelakkat. He openly asks everybody, 'what is there to celebrate'. It is clear both the church and most of its responsible citizens are disturbed in Fr Toms case. The fun is that Fr Tom thinks that he is already a saint – elect. 

  2. Isaac Gomes says:

     

    The popular notion is that Fr Tom was captured by IS militants.  This is not the case.  For ISIS is ruthless. Their nature is merciless annihilation. They won't carry along with them someone who was sick and diabetic. Also neither the Indian Government nor Fr Tom confirmed that he was captured by the ISIS. Even Omani sources did not say this. All he said in his very guarded statement was that he did not know his captors.  

    It is true that the Government advised him and the Missionaries of Charity not to carry on their mission in Yemen, as it politically very volatile and it did not have a government in place. This forced the Indian Government and others to close their embassies for the safety of their staff.  This is one of the reasons why it was difficult for the Indian Government to know Fr Tom's whereabouts.  If Fr Tom goes back to Yemen, he and his bosses would be going against the Government's travel advisory. In that case if anything happens to Fr Tom, the Government cannot be held responsible and asked to release him again.  The Indian Government's advisory against travel to / stay in Yemen is proved by Fr Tom's "No comments as of now" reply to the question There were allegations that you went to Yemen ignoring Government of India advise to avoid that country. What do you say?

    It is certain that a ransom was paid.  Without that the captors would not have carried Fr Tom with them for so long, especially when he was sick and by his own admission suffered from high diabetes.  Also he was not a Maulavi or Muslim Evangelist.  The question then arises, why was Fr Tom kept alive, and  16 persons including the four helpless nuns were shot dead? The answer to this again, is Ransom. Logic says Fr Tom's only value was Ransom because his captors knew he was a Salesian priest. There is a saying even God does not know how much money Salesians have!  And those in the know of things know that the Indian Church is very rich, only next to the Government. Now-a-days, those who run international terrorism are knowledge-rich and have the requisite data on their captives or their organisations. 

    As per reports the Sultan of Oman directly facilitated Fr. Tom's release.  But he woudn't have paid his ransom in spite of our erstwhile President Shankar Dayal Sharma having been his teacher for some time.  He might have negotiated it.

    In a Salesian school in Kolkata, a lady teacher was orally hired and then orally terminated from service after one year. This oral hire and fire is rampant in a number of missionary schools. CBCI has turned a blind eye to this practice just as it has to the low pay of nurses of Kerela in Church-run hospitals. In spite of several requests, this hapless teacher has not been reinstated or compensated.  The Archbishop of Calcutta is aware of this and celebrated with great pomp the Year of Mercy.  But where is mercy of the Church in actual practice except stony silence? The Church ignores pressing issues and sweeps them under the carpet, whether in Kerala or in Kolkata.  So God has his own ways of making the Church compensate for its follies. Through the persecution and release of good persons like Fr Tom, God is telling the Indian Church to read the writing on the wall and mend its way to humility, charity and service of its sheep 24×7. 

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