Abducted Indian priest makes new plea for help as his health deteriorates

(Reuters/Stringer)People stand outside an old people's home after it was attacked by gunmen in the Yemeni port of Aden March 4, 2016.

Father Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian priest who was kidnapped by suspected Islamic State militants in Yemen last year, has made a plea for help in a new video, saying his health condition is "deteriorating quickly."

Uzhunnalil, who hails from Ramapuram in Kottayam District, was abducted in March last year when suspected ISIS militants raided an old-age home run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in the city of Aden. Sixteen people, including four nuns, were killed during the raid.

In a video posted on a Yemeni news portal, Uzhunnalil said that his captors are treating him well "to the extent they are able."

"My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalisation as early as possible," the frail-looking priest said in the video, as reported by The News Minute.

Uzhunnalil said that the kidnappers have contacted the Indian government and the Catholic bishop in Abu Dhabi, but the response, he said, was "not encouraging."

"My dear family people, do what you can to help me be released. Please, please do what you can to help to get me released. May God bless you for that," he said.

According to Catholic Herald, the video was posted on YouTube by the news site Aden Time on May 8. Uzhunnalil appears in the video with a cardboard sign with the date April 15, 2017.

An official at the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which includes Yemen, confirmed that the man in the video was the kidnapped priest, but he would not comment further. Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar, was reportedly away from the vicariate headquarters in Abu Dhabi on a pastoral visit.

In a video released in December, the priest appealed to the Indian government and Pope Francis to help secure his release.

"If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously," Uzhunnalil said in the earlier video. "I am from India. I am perhaps not considered as of much value," he added.

He noted that there have been reports that everything was being done to secure his freedom "but in reality nothing seems to have happened."

The pope had appealed for the release of Uzhunnalil on April 10, 2016, after his Sunday Regina Coeli address in St. Peter's Square.

"I renew my appeal for the freeing of all kidnapped persons in armed conflict zones. In particular, I wish to remember Salesian priest Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Aden, Yemen last March 4," said the pope.

Since the abduction, Salesians in Bangalore have made several efforts to raise awareness about Uzhunnalil's plight, including a prayer vigil on Jan. 4 and a worldwide novena on Jan. 15-23.

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