Father Tom Uzhunnalil, the Catholic priest released this week after being kidnapped last March by Islamic extremists in Yemen, said he felt Jesus "next to" him every day during his ordeal.
Uzhunnalil, a priest in the Salesian order, met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, the day after his release. According to World Watch Monitor, Francis told the priest he would continue to pray for him as he had done during his imprisonment.
In response, Uzhunnalil thanked him, adding that he prayed for him every day as well during his 18 months in captivity. He promised to continue "to pray for all" who had supported him "spiritually," and remembered in particular the four sisters of the Missionaries of Charity and those killed at the time of his abduction.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, who attended the priest's meeting with Pope Francis, told L'Osservatore Romano that after his release Uzhunnalil had said: "Truly, every day I felt Jesus next to me, I always knew and felt in my heart that I was not alone."
The cardinal added that after this "terrible experience, the essential message that Tom is about to convey is that 'Jesus is great and loves us.'"
As 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. The group 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. He was released from captivity earlier this week, and will remain in Rome for some medical tests for the next few days, according to reports.
Indian minister Alphons Kannanthanam said "extremely complicated diplomatic efforts" were made to secure Father Tom's freedom, which included the help of the office of India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
According to the National Catholic Register, Father Tom said he was not tortured and the militants "did not behave badly towards me even once during the entire one-and-a-half-years", but said his ordeal was nevertheless "full of challenges."
"I had to wear a single cloth during the entire period," he said, and when he began to lose much weight, "they gave me medicines for diabetes." He said the militants "shifted the camp three times after the abduction" and blindfolded him every time during each transfer.
The Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, whose sisters in Aden had Father Uzhunnalil as their chaplain, told AsiaNews she was "overwhelmed" with joy at the news of the release.
"We never abandoned the hope that one day Father Tom would be released. His photograph is attached to Mother Teresa's tomb," Sister Mery Prema said. "The sisters, the poor and the people prayed every day for his liberation."