The Church of India has said it is "very hopeful" after Yemen confirmed that Catholic missionary Father Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in March 2016 by Islamic extremists, is "alive".
"We are thrilled to hear that good news," Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the autonomous Syro-Malabar Church, to which the kidnapped priest belongs, told World Watch Monitor.
Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi, Deputy Prime Minister of Yemen, made the revelation to Sushma Swaraj, Indian External Affairs (foreign) Minister on Wednesday when they met for bilateral talks in the Indian capital, according to UCA News.
An official statement by India's External Affairs Ministry said that Al-Mekhlafi, who is on a 4-day India visit, assured that "Fr. Tom was alive and the Yemeni government has been making all efforts to secure his release. He assured all cooperation in this regard."
"We are very hopeful now. The news brings great joy to us," V A Thomas, first cousin of the kidnapped priest, told World Watch Monitor from their home in Ramapuram, near Palai, in the Christian heartland of Kerala.
As earlier reported, Uzhunnalil was last year abducted by militants believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist group who raided a nursing home run by the Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity group in the city of Aden and killed four nuns, two female staff members, eight residents residents and a guard.
It was initially rumored that the kidnapped priest was going to be executed on Good Friday 2016. However, shortly before Christmas, a five-minute video message was published on YouTube showing the priest looking frail and unhealthy and appearing to read from a script.
In the video, the priest said he felt "sad" that nothing has been done by the government and the church to get him released. Father Tom also said suggested that his Indian ethnicity contributed to the lack of assistance, adding that if he were a European priest, he would have been released already.
"They are treating me well to the extent they are able," he said in English. "My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalization as early as possible."
Meanwhile, church officials have claimed that they have not received any demands for ransom in the last year and that they are unaware of the motive and identity of the kidnappers, according to The Christian Times.
Pope Francis, however, has pleaded with Uzhunnalil's captors to release him, and in April said that he renews his appeal "for the liberation of all persons seized in areas of armed conflict," but so far the priest's fate remains in question.
A change.org petition calling on the the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the President of India to take necessary actions to save Father Tom has received 23,371 signatures.