New Delhi: Late BJP leader and former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is well known for her relentless efforts in extricating Indians from alarming situations overseas.

One of the most notable incidents among her efforts is when she helped rescue Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Catholic priest from Kerala who was kidnapped by suspected ISIS militants in strife-torn Yemen in 2016.

Father Uzhunnalil woke up to the news of the untimely demise of 67-year-old Swaraj, and said he was saddened by it.

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Indian Express quoted Father Tom as saying, “I feel so sad about the demise of such a beloved and pleasant personality. Of course, I prayed at once for her soul and then prayed for her near and dear ones.

“My memory went back to the day when I happened to be speaking with her after my release on the 13th of September 2017. Her conversation with me was not of an official authority or a minister to a common man. I felt like she was speaking to me like an elder sister. That was my feeling, the style of conversation, the things she spoke to me,” added Father Uzhunnalil.

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The 59-year-old Catholic priest belongs to the Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco. He had reached Yemen in 2010 and was working with a care run by the Missionaries of Charity.

In March 2016, Yemen found itself in the middle of a violent civil war between the ruling Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi government and Houthi rebels. Suspected ISIS militants attacked the old age home in Aden and killed 16 people.

They abducted the Catholic priest and kept him captive for nearly 18 months. In September 2017, the then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj announced on Twitter that the priest had been released and will return to India shortly.

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Father Uzhunnalil recounted that he could have been killed the day he was abducted just like the extremists slaughtered 16 people at the care home. Post his release, he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sushma Swaraj in Delhi.

“She warmly welcomed me, assured me all assistance and wished me speedy recovery. I do not know exactly what she did (for my release) because I didn’t know what was happening here while I was coming out. I wish to thank her in a position like this, thanking God for her in the various ways she has been instrumental in my freedom from captivity,” he had said at the time of his return.

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The priest said he would get the photograph he took with Sushma Swaraj in Delhi framed as part of his memories of the former foreign minister.

Swaraj, who assumed the role of the external affairs minister after the BJP rode to a landslide win in 2014, died at the AIIMS Hospital in New Delhi late Tuesday night after suffering a cardiac arrest. Swaraj had undergone a kidney transplant in December 2016 and had opted out of the recent parliamentary elections citing health reasons. Swaraj is survived by her husband Swaraj Kaushal and daughter Bansuri.