18th February, 2019 will go in to the annals of St Pius College as a memorable day. Today we had a spiritual conference by a Catholic Priest whose missionary zeal and life experience set our hearts on fire because he meant every word that he spoke. A zealous missionary and a true son of St John Bosco, a man whose heart burnt with fire for Christ and love for the poor it is none other that Rev. Fr Tom Uzhunnalil SDB. We were privileged to have him in our midst as he shared with us the story of his 18 months of captivity. The spiritual conference began at 6.30 pm with a hymn followed by the welcome address by Fr Joseph Gonsalves. The next 90 minutes were exciting and at the same time a source of inspiration for all the Priests and the Brothers of St Pius Community as Fr. Tom shared his story of captivity.
He began the conference by giving a brief history of the catholic mission in Yemen which was time and again hindered by the unstable regime in the country. He also spoke about the history of presence of the Missionaries of Charity who take care of the sick and the old as well as the presence of White Fathers ( later replaced by the Salesians of the Bangalore Province) who cared for the spiritual needs of the charity sisters and also the expatriates. Fr Tom, a technician by profession who had shouldered many responsibilities in the Province of Bangalore felt the deep call within himself to work in Yemen. Upon his request he was posted there as a chaplain to the missionaries of Charity in the poorest Arab nation torn apart by civil unrest and despite ill health he returned to Yemen because of his love for Christ and the poor.
He recounted the fateful day 4th March, 2016 when the terrorists affiliated to ISIS attacked the charity home where he was posted and killed 4 sisters and 12 workers while he was pushed in a car and then followed the 18 month ordeal where the kidnappers would continue shifting him from place to place. During these 18 months what kept him going was prayer by which he completely surrendered himself to Jesus. He also shared with us that he thought his life would come to an end on that day but he always felt the touch of Jesus which gave him hope and strengthened his faith. He however agreed that his captors did not harm him in any way but due to lack of insulin he faced a weight loss. Everyday he would offer holy mass spiritually and also pray for the souls of the sisters who were killed. He immensely believed that it was the prayers of all the people around the world which saved him from the clutches of the terrorists.
He advised all the seminarians to persevere in prayer and surrender themselves completely to Christ through forgiveness, love and service. The final part of the conference was the question answer session wherein Fathers and Brothers asked various questions to Fr Tom. Through this interaction we came to know that the missionary work has indeed touched the Muslim community of Yemen but also we could gauge the fact that he still continues to be a committed missionary in spite of facing such a horrendous experience. May all of us be inspired by the dynamic courage and missionary zeal of Fr. Tom!
Br. Crisler Perumbully
1st Year Theology