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Priest kidnapped in Yemen pleads for help in a video

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Indian Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen more than a year ago, in a video message pleaded for the Indian government and the Catholic Church to do more to secure his release.

Indian Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen more than a year ago, is seen in a screen grab from a YouTube video. (CNS)

Indian Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen more than a year ago, is seen in a screen grab from a YouTube video. (CNS)

The video was posted on YouTube by the news site Aden Time May 8; the heavily bearded and very thin Father Uzhunnalil is shown seated with a cardboard sign in his lap with the date April 15, 2017. A similar video was posted in December.

An official at the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which includes Yemen, said May 9 the person in the video is the kidnapped Salesian, but he would not comment further. Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar, is away from the vicariate headquarters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on a pastoral visit.

Father Uzhunnalil was kidnapped in Aden March 4, 2016, in an attack in which four Missionaries of Charity and at least 12 others were killed at a home for the aged.

In a meeting May 3 with Salesian novices studying in Italy, Pope Francis once again offered prayers for the kidnapped priest.

In the new video, Father Uzhunnalil began by stating his name and date of birth and thanking “my dear family people” for their messages of concern, which he said he has received.

Without describing his captors or referring to them as such, he said, “they are treating me well to the extent that they are able.”

“My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalization as early as possible,” he said.

Father Uzhunnalil said his captors have contacted Indian government authorities “several times” and the replies, which he said he has seen, were “very, very poor.”

“They also contacted the bishop, bishop of Abu Dhabi,” he said. “There, too, the response was not encouraging. Neither the bishop nor the Indian government authorities ask them what they really want to get me released. It is a poor response, and I am sad about that.”

Asking his family and friends to pressure the authorities, he said, “Please, please, do what you what you can to get me released. May God bless you for that.”

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Ministry in Syria is about keeping hope alive, priests say

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Even in the midst of constant bombing, Jesuit and Salesian priests remain in war-torn Aleppo, Syria, trying to create a sense of normalcy for those unable to leave.

A refugee woman from Syria carries food while other displaced people sit near a border gate in Kilis, Turkey, Feb. 9. More than 30,000 people are stranded in northern Aleppo province after Turkish government forces closed border crossings. (CNS photo/Sedat Suna, EPA)

A refugee woman from Syria carries food while other displaced people sit near a border gate in Kilis, Turkey, Feb. 9. More than 30,000 people are stranded in northern Aleppo province after Turkish government forces closed border crossings. (CNS photo/Sedat Suna, EPA)

Jesuit Father Sami Hallak has been keeping a crisis journal during his time in Aleppo, narrating daily life as he and hundreds of thousands of the city’s residents cope with the reality of a war that began in March 2011.

In late January, Father Hallak wrote, Islamic State militants “cut the water for reasons still unknown.” Although Jesuit Refugee Service, where Father Hallak works, has a large water tank, the reserves are used with care.

Unless it is designated for drinking, he said, the water is reused two or three times. “If one takes a bath, he puts hot water in a bucket, and the bathing water is carefully collected in a vessel.” The water is then used in the toilets, to wash clothes or to clean the floor.

A portion of Father Hallak’s journal was published Feb. 22 by the Rome-based missionary news agency, AsiaNews.

On his Valentine’s Day entry Feb. 14, he suggested Aleppo sweethearts could use the slogan, “I love you even if you stink.” And, he said, “the most popular gift is a red can … filled with water.”

In five years of fighting, according to the United Nations, more than 250,000 people have been killed, 4.6 million Syrians have been forced to leave the country and 6.6 million are internally displaced.

Father Hallak said he tries to keep up people’s morale in his homilies, even suggesting that the water will be turned back on within a week. A positive attitude, he said, “is our only way to survive.”

Other priests in the area have taken a similar approach. Salesian Father Luciano Buratti, who also works in Aleppo, told the Salesian news agency ANS, Feb. 19, “Our community has chosen to continue our activities as if nothing has happened. We try to offer families a place where they can breathe stability and harmony even in the mid t of chaos.”

Still, he said, “nobody can understand what’s happening, and we don’t know whom we can trust. We were preparing with young people a play to celebrate Don Bosco, and we have to stop because several of them died during the bombing.”

But people need hope and stability, so both parish and youth center events continue to operate as they did before the fighting, Father Buratti said. He also noted that the people remaining Aleppo are those who do not have the means to leave.

Despite the volatile environment, people continue to look for signs of hope, Father Hallak said. In a diary entry, he recounted how a statue at St. Bonaventure Church was damaged by government forces during the fighting.

In a conversation with a plumber Feb.18, he said he was surprised and confused to hear the man call the broken statue a miracle. The plumber said: “The face of the virgin and almost the entire front of the statue remain intact. Her hands clasped in prayer are slightly broken. It’’s a miracle, Father!”

After listening to the plumber’s words, he wrote that many people in Aleppo also forgot that the statue was destroyed and “remember only parts that remained ‘miraculously’ intact.”

By Gaby Maniscalco

 

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