The Kerala priest who was released recently after more than one-and-a-half years in captivity in Yemen met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, a few hours after he arrived in India.
Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who reiterated that he was kept unharmed by his captors, said he could come out safe after the ordeal due to the efforts and prayers of leaders of different countries and people of all faiths.
“The Prime Minister was very happy that I am free and he asked me to take care of my health,” he said at a press conference at the headquarters of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India here.
“I reached comparatively safe… My mind is clear,” he said, thanking “different individuals, leaders of this country and other countries, and Holy Father (Pope Francis)”. He said he never felt the fear of death. “I never cried, shivered and I did not think that I would be killed.”
Uzhunnalil, a Catholic priest of the Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco, also met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj after arriving in Delhi.
He was working at the Missionaries of Charity’s centre for destitute and abandoned people in Yemen since 2010 and was kidnapped on March 5, 2016. He said he had no idea about who had kidnapped him.
“I was kidnapped in the morning… as I was praying in the chapel after the mass. The first group kidnapped me and handed me over to another group. I was shifted from place to place on four occasions. Each time I was shifted, I was blindfolded. Whenever the captors came near me I was asked to cover my eyes,” he said. “They did not torture or ill-treat me. Initially for some time they tied my hands and legs. They gave me food. They gave me medicine too on one or two occasions when I was sick,” he said.
However, his captors spoke only in Arabic and did not seem to understand English, he said.
He said he was asked to talk the way he did in a video in which he was seen saying that if he were a European priest he would have been taken seriously.
On Union Minister K J Alphons’ remark that Uzhunnalil seemed to have developed a “Stockholm syndrome”, the priest asked, “what’s that?”
He said he had no idea if any ransom was paid but believed the prayers and blessings of people belonging to all faiths had saved him.
The Ministry of External Affairs said in a release that it had been making all possible efforts to secure his safe release and was in constant touch with countries in the region which could help secure his release.