Isaac Gomes gives a lay person's view on the Church hierarchy's position on the kidnap of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil and of Ms Judith D'Souza
On 8th June the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC) issued a reminder to the State and the Central Governments about the release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in March 2016 by a terror group in Yemen. KCBC must be complimented on their efforts of putting diplomatic pressures on the governments – both state and central.
Readers would recall that on 4th March 2016 gunmen stormed the Missionaries of Charity home for the elderly in Aden, Yemen and mercilessly shot dead 16 unarmed and helpless souls including four nuns viz. Sr. Anselm (Ranchi, 59 years), Sr. Reginette (Rwanda, 33 years), Sr. Judith (Kenya, 41 years) and Sr. Marguerite (Rwanda, 44 years). Along with them was Fr Tom Uzhunnalil who was reportedly kidnapped by the gunmen.
But how can one be so sure that the Salesian Priest Fr Tom was abducted by a terror group? There is no definite corroboration on this as the attackers took the home for elders by surprise and everything was at sixes and sevens after the cold-blooded firing. If the gunmen did not have any qualms before shooting the 16 innocent victims, then any person with logical thinking would ask why should they spare Fr Tom and take the risk of carrying him as a captive. Was it then the terrorists knew that the Salesian Community was very rich and they took the priest captive to extort a huge ransom? The other possibility is that Fr Tom might have miraculously escaped (let us hope and pray this is the case) before the gunmen could catch up with him in his quarters and that he is unable to contact the Indian Embassy in Yemen as the Indian Government has closed it down due to the out of control political situation in Yemen.
This killing and alleged kidnap raises the question: Why do our church authorities send their priests and nuns to countries which are politically unstable and hazardous to life? If Evangelisation is the motto, let our Bishops and Provincials take up these postings and face the music! Why are they sending our priests and nuns to be used as sacrificial lambs?
Anyway, KCBC must be complimented once again for having sent reminders to the NAMO Government, which has strengthened ties with the US and Gulf Countries including Iran. Strategically, these are the countries which will help in the release of Fr Tom and also of Judith D’Souza who was kidnapped in Kabul on 9th June 2016. She was working as Senior Technical Adviser of Aga Khan Foundation.
So with the reported kidnap of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil in Yemen and of Ms Judith D'Souza of Kolkata in Kabul, the Church does not have a Carte blanche to criticise NAMO government anymore. It has to recall that Fr Alexis Prem Kumar was released after nine months of captivity thanks to NAMO diplomacy. "This is because our Prime Minister Narendra Modi (that) I am here. He saved me." Fr Kumar told reporters after arriving at Delhi airport on Sunday 22 February 2015 evening (NDTV 23 February 2015).
Now we have to contend with the unconfirmed kidnap of Fr Tom and the confirmed kidnap of Ms Judith D'Souza in Kabul. It’s a real test of diplomatic and social communications skills of our Church hierarchy!
In the meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Calcutta, led by the Archbishop is busier than ever with the Celebration Committee for the Canonisation of Mother Teresa than making any concerted effort for the release of Judith D’Souza. In spite of several requests, the Archbishop has chosen not to emulate the KCBC on raising the ante of diplomatic pressure. He has gone in for the tokenism of taking out a candle-lit procession. By not issuing any press release or appearing on national TV channels making a strong pitch for an early release of Judith, he has shied away from his responsibilities as the Shepherd of his flock.
Let Saint Mother Teresa show light to the Archdiocese of Calcutta that it may not be appropriate to celebrate her Canonisation when her nuns have been massacred and a priest and a social worker kidnapped. Otherwise it might appear Nero fiddles while Rome is burning.