Dire rumours circulated last week concerning Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest who was abducted by ISIS in Yemen on March 4. The worst hearsay was that his captors had crucified him on Good Friday, which thankfully appear to have been false.
We can take heart that the most recent news has been positive; the bishops’ conference of India has said that Fr Tom is alive and still in the hands of his captors, but intense negotiations are underway to secure his release.
It’s easy to feel powerless when we hear of a good priest being held hostage by terrorists, but I suggest we can pray for Fr Tom in a specific way, by praying to the souls of saintly priests who were imprisoned unfairly. One such priest is Fr Walter Ciszek, who has been proclaimed a Servant of God.
Fr Walter was captured by the Russian Army during World War II. After being accused and convicted during a phony trial of being a ‘Vatican spy’, Fr Walter spent 23 harrowing years in Soviet prisons and working in the salt mines of Siberia, all of which he details in his spiritual masterpiece, He Leadeth Me.
A great irony was that Fr Walter, when he had been a seminarian at the Russicum in Rome had been known for his passionate wish to be a priest in Russia.
If any saintly priest who has gone to God knows extreme suffering at the hands of captors, it is Fr Walter. His years in the Lubyanka Prison were spent mostly in solitary confinement and he was subjected to brutal torture until he signed a document where he ‘confessed’ to being a spy for the Pope, which led to him being sentenced to 15 years in the Gulag.
Fr Walter would be the ideal intercessor for Fr Tom – we can pray to Fr Walter that the negotiations go well and that Fr Tom is unharmed and set free. If it were to catch on, people praying to Fr Walter for priests who are persecuted and imprisoned, then maybe his cause could advance and he would one day be Blessed Walter.