Fr. Tom: God’s Grace Kept Me Going
18th Oct, 2017

Meeting Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil at the Salesian Provincial House in Bangalore on a cold October evening was indeed a warm and humbling experience for us. We were struck by the ‘calm of spirit’ walking towards us. Here’s a priest who spent 18 months in captivity following a brutal attack on the home for senior citizens in Aden, Yemen in March 2016. Sixteen people were mercilessly killed during the attack, including four Missionaries of Charity.  When the captors released him on September 12, the Christian community in India erupted with joy!

Indian Catholic Matters is very grateful for the efforts of Fr James Kadankavil SDB, Director, Kristu Jyoti College, Bangalore and Fr George MK, SDB, Rector, Don Bosco Provincial House, Bangalore for arranging this exclusive interview with Fr Tom.. Excerpts:

Fr. Tom, your story is one of self-discovery and deepening faith. Did your experience affect your belief in God?

First and foremost I wish to thank each and every one for their prayers – the sacrifices that many have done on my behalf for my safety and for my safe release. Today we all rejoice and thank God Almighty for my safe release.

Those of you, who have seen me on the media or elsewhere, will be convinced that if I say that I was not tortured by my captives. And if my body weight has gone down it is only because of my diabetics for which I was taking insulin even before this fateful day of 4th March 2016.

After all that you’ve endured, what do you hope our readers receive in knowing your struggles?

Yes, unfortunate things have happened on that day and if I was spared my life, it is certainly in the Lord’s intervention. That’s what I believe, that’s what I have experienced while they killed the others. If they have not pointed a gun at me, nor have they burnt me up, if they have been kind enough not to torture me, it’s the Lord’s intervention. And it is due to the prayers and sacrifices made by each and everyone of you and in Jesus name I wish to thank. Only He can reward you sufficiently for your sacrifice, your efforts.

Did you have prayers that you were relying upon?

Certainly. I was not allowed to move out of my confinement nor allowed to see around or to be in communication with other people. No television, no telephone, no newspaper, no reading material, no writing material, all that. But the days went one after the other. However, the English hymn, “One Day at a Time Sweet Jesus…” was of great support for me and helped me to live each day in His grace peacefully.

Many of us wonder, how was it that you endured such a frightening ordeal? Where did you get the courage to face it?

I never had cried nor depressed nor sad in as much as I trusted in the Lord and placed myself. I prayed Lord if it is your holy will that I be freed, you free me. But give me the grace to live and to fulfill the mission you have for me in Yemen and in my life, give me that strength and the grace, that’s what my prayer was every day. In other words, I am not able to quote the exact verse but it goes something like this, “Jesus told his disciples not to worry and the Heavenly Father is such a good father and every hair on our body, on our heads are counted and none of it will fall to the ground without His knowledge.” So, for me if that fateful day that has happened, if I was preserved, it all had a purpose and He has permitted it. That consoled me and always helped me to pray that His will maybe done in my life. So, that is what has happened and days went on like that.

My usual days began as I wake up, as I said I never cried, nor did I have any dreadful, frightful nightmares or any thing of that sort. If all those has not happened it’s certainly the grace from God due to your own prayers and sacrifices that all of you, all over the world, all the Christians, my brothers and sisters. And even I have come to learn that my Hindu brothers and sisters, they were offering pujas in the temples and even our own Muslim brethren in the country has been offering prayers for me. So it’s the prayers offered to God for my safety and the co-operative efforts of different governments and different individuals has made it possible. The Lord has used different individuals and different government authorities, in their own different capacities to make this day possible for me to be out safely. I thank then all in the Lords name. May the Lord God reward them all.

What counsel would you offer those who are going through a much smaller ordeal in areas of personal, family life, work, health, etc., but are unsure of how to go about it?

For me, I felt that there is a mission for me. First and foremost was to be present to the Missionaries of Charity to their very end. And even when I was taken as captive, I thought to myself, perhaps now the Lord is wanting me to be sitting and praying for those who are taking me as captives in their own homes or wherever I am kept. I did that. Towards the end of my stay, like maybe one or two or three weeks before, I was asking the Lord what Lord next? What is my mission next? And of course by the 12th of September, I realised that my next mission, the Lord wants of me, is to bear witness to this fact that the Lord God exists. He is the Living God. He hears our prayers and answers in His own time. Not in our time that we like to have but in His own time, for my own good, the good of my family members and my countrymen, people of faith of the whole world in a way. I know that right from our Holy Father Pope Francis to the little babies have prayed for me.

May the Lord God grant each one the grace to fulfill the mission that each one of us have. Each of us have a mission in God’s sight and to the extent that we are able to realise and recognise that mission and fulfill it, the Lord will be with us. Be it painful events or discouraging events and so in our lives, continue to trust in the Lord and pray and certainly we will experience one day what it all meant, by the Lord and we will be happy forever, to be fulfilling that mission in our life.

A special message from you for the readers of ICM…

My request to all of you is this. Just as you all have prayed for me with one heart and soul, and have seen the fruit even after these 18 months, why not we pray altogether with the same intensity and with the same enthusiasm for other brothers and sisters, priests, bishops even, who are kept captives in different countries? Let us pray for peace in these warring countries and people of these groups that are taking people as captives and so on. May the Good Lord may touch their hearts and bring about a change so that this world becomes more peaceful, and a caring and loving world of humanity to praise God, to thank God. I thank you all once again for your prayers, your support for me.

Let’s all together work towards the total freedom for everyone. May those captives be freed by the Lord and reunite once again with their dear ones. This is my request. I am sure you will all join with me to pray for them and for the world peace.

May God bless each and every one of you for what you have been and may His grace keep you all going. Thank you.


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