On Good Friday, the world was awaiting a crucifixion. Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest working with the martyred Missionaries of Charity in Yemen, was kidnapped on March 4. Suspected to be the work of Islamic terrorists, no one has claimed responsibility for last month’s attack in which gunmen killed four Indian nuns, two Yemeni female staff members, eight elderly residents and a guard.
Reports from the Internet stated that on Good Friday, the kidnapped priest would be crucified by ISIS. The origin of the reports seems to trace back to a Facebook post from a group of women religious in South Africa. The report went viral, being tweeted and retweeted, by some very prominent priests, deacons and big voices in Catholic media circles.
The news of his crucifixion was even reported by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn at an Easter Vigil service. He declared that Father Tom had been crucified. The problem was that this wasn’t the case.
The Vatican never said that Father Tom had been crucified. The Salesians never said he had been crucified. In fact, the Indian government, the Indian Conference of Bishops, and the Salesians all asked people to stop tweeting and reporting the crucifixion as it was making the negotiations to free the clergyman even more difficult.
On Saturday, April 3, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) said a delegation met Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj who said the government was working to secure the priest’s safe return. Father Joseph Chinnaiyan, deputy secretary of the CBCI, stated: “She has assured us Father Tom is safe and negotiations are on for his release which could happen very soon.”
We can only hope and pray that this will be the case. Please God, may Father Tom be released soon.
One thing to note about the whole story is that this is one more indication to the world about how brutal and real the threat of ISIS and other Islamic militants are and how they are systematically persecuting Christians. The world is so much more aware that ISIS will stop at nothing to destroy Christianity. The fanatical Islamists are very aware of the symbols that they are using to kill — crucifixion, which has and is a practice that ISIS employs, and even the crushing of the skulls of the martyred Missionaries of Charity. They are employing a reversal of the imagery of the Book of Revelation. The reality is that militant Islam is a clear and present danger and must be stopped. This social media buzz continues to bring this home.
However, all this social media buzz may have made it all that more difficult to have negotiations to secure the release of Father Tom.
There is also a lesson to be learned concerning the use of the latest social media devices. Everyone – especially prominent clergy and laypeople – need to be more circumspect about what we tweet on Twitter, what we like on Facebook, and what we report to be true from the pulpit. Make sure you know what you are posting before you do so. Let’s be more accurate and responsible while still crying out about evil such as ISIS.