Bishop says he believes Salesian priest kidnapped in Yemen is still alive

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The bishop who leads the apostolic
vicariate that includes Yemen said he has “strong indications” that Salesian
Father Tom Uzhunnalil “is still alive in the hands of his

Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the Apostolic Vicariate of
Southern Arabia, told Catholic News Service March 28, “I have no
confirmation that anything happened Good Friday” and added that the rumors
appear to be untrue.

Father Uzhunnalil, an Indian, was kidnapped March 4 from the
home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden,
Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack.

Speaking from his office in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab
Emirates, Bishop Hinder said it appeared that in late March a rumor began in
India that militants connected to the so-called Islamic State group planned to
crucify Father Uzhunnalil on Good Friday. The rumor spread around the world through
social media.

Leaders of the Salesian order in India said March 21 that there
was no evidence to support the reports and asked people to refrain from
“spreading false rumors.”

Rumors that the murder was carried out began to circulate
after Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna mentioned Father
Uzhunnalil in his homily at the Easter Vigil March 26. The next day, the Vienna
archdiocesan website posted a piece quoting Bishop Hinder and Indian Salesians
as saying there was no evidence the priest was killed; Cardinal Schonborn had
spoken to church leaders in the region and believed “there is still

Bishop Hinder told CNS March 28, “Nobody knows exactly
what is happening.” However, he said, “I have sufficient reason to
doubt” the reports of Father Uzhunnalil’s death.

The bishop refused to comment further, saying the situation
is “too delicate.”

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