An Indian Catholic priest who was feared to have been "crucified by Isis" on Good Friday could still be alive. A number of reports have emerged that suggest there has been "no confirmation" of his crucifixion and that efforts are being made to secure the priest's release from his kidnappers.
Father Tom Uzhunnalil was reportedly taken by gunmen when they attacked an old age home on 4 March, killing four Catholic nuns and 11 other people. On 24 March rumours emerged that the priest was to be beheaded on Good Friday, however, these were dismissed by Father Uzhunnalil's church.
During an Easter vigil service in Vienna, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn allegedly stated that the crucifixion had taken place. However, it is believed that he has retracted his statement since then.
Bishop Paul Hinder of Southern Arabia told the Catholic News Agency: "Cardinal Schonborn has already corrected his statement which he had made on the basis of the wrong statement of Archbishop Moras in Bangalore. Certain media in India are too nervous and curious and not aware that they are playing with the life of Father Tom."
He went on to say that he had "strong indications that Father. Tom is still alive in the hands of the kidnappers" but said he would be providing no further information in order to ensure the priest's safety. Arhdiocese Vienna's head of media relations, Michael Pruller, confirmed that Cardinal Schonborn's statement could not be verified.
Pruller said: "The cardinal doesn't himself have any sources that have confirmed the death of Father Tom. Thus, for the time being, there's still basis for hope that Father Tom is alive."
Initial rumours of Father Uzhunnalil's possible Good Friday crucifixion emerged on 20 March from a religious group based in South Africa. The Franciscan Sisters of Siessen said on social media that they had received information that the priest was being tortured under capture and that he was to be crucified on Good Friday.
The group wrote on their Facebook page: "Was informed that the Salesian priest, Father Tom who was kidnapped from the Missionaires of Charity Home in Yemen is being tortured and is going to be crucified on Good Friday. This calls for serious concerted prayers from all of us."
More than 115,000 people shared the post before it was deleted by the group. At the time, Father Mathew Valarkot of Father Uzhunnalil's church dismissed the concerns as "rumours" and said that they had no information about the priest's whereabouts or health.