Relief and gratitude after release of priest abducted in Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb 23, 2015 / 02:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News) - Friends and colleagues have pledged their support for a Jesuit priest released after eight months of captivity in Afghanistan, where he had been working to help refugees.

“You cannot imagine our relief that he is now home, safe and sound,” Father Peter Balleis, S.J., international director of the Rome-based Jesuit Refugee Services, said Feb. 22.

“We are aware of the tireless efforts at many levels to achieve his release and we are grateful for the consolation we have received from the prayerful support of countless friends – including those of the school children from the school where he was kidnapped.”

Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar, S.J., was the Afghanistan director for Jesuit Refugee Services at the time of his abduction by unidentified men in June 2, 2014. Some reports identified the men as Taliban militants.

The priest had been accompanying teachers on a visit to a school for refugees in the village of Sohadat, some 500 miles west of Kabul.

The government of India helped secure the 47-year-old priest’s release, the Times of India reports.

India’s prime minister Narenda Modi said on Twitter he was “delighted” at securing the priest’s freedom. He said he spoke to the priest’s father and his “happy family.”

“I am thankful to God that my brother is safe, and is returning,” Fr. Prem’s brother John said, according to the India Express.

The priest has returned to India.

His colleagues at Jesuit Relief Services responded with gratitude.

“All of us will do whatever we can to ensure that Prem receives the necessary attention and support from his family, his Jesuit brothers in the Society of Jesus, and his many friends and colleagues in JRS,” said Fr. Stan Fernandes, the agency’s regional director in South Asia.

Fr. Kumar has been in Afghanistan since 2011. He is from the southern India state of Tamil Nadu, where he previously worked with Sri Lankan refugees, indigenous people and Dalits.

Jesuit Relief Services has been in Afghanistan since 2005. The agency is working to help displaced persons and their host communities through education and life skills training.

“We were close to the Afghan people before the abduction of Fr Prem and we will continue to accompany them in any way we can,” Fr. Fernandes added.

The relief agency is active in almost 50 countries, serving about 950,000 people.