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Indian priest freed by militants to meet Pope

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe newly rescued Indian priest is on his way to meet Pope Francis

An Indian priest who was freed after being abducted by militants in Yemen is on his way to meet Pope Francis in Vatican City.

Father Tom Uzhunnalil was abducted in March 2016 while he was working at a home for the elderly.

News of his release on Tuesday has sparked celebrations in his village in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

A number of foreigners have been kidnapped since the start of the Yemeni civil war in 2015.

The Oman government helped secure his release, its official news agency reported.

The 58-year-old priest was kidnapped when jihadist militants raided his charity house in Aden. The raid also killed 16 people, including four Catholic nuns, who were from the Missionaries of Charity congregation, founded by Mother Teresa.

  • Pope condemns attack on nuns in Yemen

Father Tom's release was welcomed by his family, who had to suffer through months of unverified reporting that he had been executed.

Navitha Elizabeth Jose, a cousin of Father Tom, described the news as "a flood of joy for all of us".

Sanil Abraham, another relative of the priest, told BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi that the entire village "erupted in celebration" when his release was announced.

image copyrightSatheesh AS
image captionFamily members of the priest suffered through months of unverified reports that he had been crucified

At the time of his abduction, it was believed that militants from so called Islamic State (IS) had kidnapped and killed him.

But people in his village of Ramapuram say they always believed that he was going to come home safely.

Father Tom joined the Silesian congregation in 1989. He served in many places in India before leaving for Yemen a few years later. He resisted calls to return to India when the war intensified in Yemen.

"If he is alive, it is only because of the prayers of many people. The entire family was devastated when he was abducted. The last 17 months have been really trying times for us. We were very depressed when those reports and videos of his crucifixion came. But, we are all in a celebratory state today," his cousin Vadkel Thomas said.

Mr Thomas thanked the government for its efforts in ensuring the safety of his cousin.

"We are awaiting his return. Our last information was that he left Muscat on Tuesday for Rome to meet the Pope,'' Mr Thomas said.

Related Topics

  • Yemen
  • India
  • Asia