Fr Tom Uzhunnalil (centre) met Pope Francis at the Vatican the day after his release. (Photo: L’Osservatore Romano)

The Indian priest who was held hostage for 18 months in Yemen says his experiences taught him about “the power of prayer”.

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in March 2016 and freed in September 2017, told Catholic news agency ACI Prensa his ability to persevere during his captivity was “thanks to the prayers of everyone who prayed for me”.

“Prayer is the best thing that God has given us and can obtain everything,” he said. “Surrendered to the Lord’s will, during my captivity I prayed to the Lord that they would release me soon, but I also asked him to give me the grace to complete the mission that he had planned for me.

“It was thanks to the prayers of everyone who prayed for me that I was able to endure what I was going through. It wasn’t because of my personal fortitude but because of the prayers of my brothers and sisters in the faith.”

Fr. Uzhunnalil was captured during a raid on the Missionaries of Charity home for the elderly in Aden on 4 March 2016, in which four Indian nuns, two Yemeni female staff members and eight elderly residents were killed.

“I prayed for God’s mercy on the sisters who had died and also for those who had killed them,” he said. “They then told me to come outside and asked me if I was a Muslim. I told them no, that I was a Christian. And they put me in the back seat of the car.”

Recalling the context in which his kidnapping took place, he said: “The churches in Yemen had been attacked and vandalised, but in the days prior to my kidnapping the situation had stabilised somewhat.”

He said that during his captivity he was taken to five or six different places, but that he never knew where he was.

“They took everything away from me, although they gave me a little water and food,” he said. “I prayed for my captors and I thanked God for the seed of goodness they could have in their hearts. Thanks be to God, I don’t hold any rancour or hatred for them.

“God knew everything that was happening, because they should have killed me in the beginning, but they didn’t. They kept me alive even though I said I was a Christian. Here I am now, free, to bear witness that God is alive, that he has heard our prayers and has answered us. I have witnessed the power of prayer.”

The priest met with Pope Francis the day after his release and said it was “tremendously emotional”.

“During the meeting with Pope Francis, I cried and I thanked him for the prayers he had prayed for me and those he had asked to be prayed for me,” he said.

The priest encouraged Christians suffering persecution today to be “steadfast in prayer and faith in God”, ACI Prensa reported.

He now lives in Bangalore, southern India, but says he is willing to return to Yemen “if that’s God’s will”.

Earlier this year he released a book about his experiences, titled “By the Grace of God”.